Friday, October 30, 2015

The 2016 WORS Schedule

Today the Wisconsin Off-Road Series announced its 2016 schedule. Racers who have grown accustomed to a 12-event season were surprised to see just 10 events on next year’s calendar. Long-time favorites at Wausau and Rhinelander are gone; the remaining events from this year’s calendar will be back.

If you are a series racer, then you should know that WORS has not reduced the number of races that will count toward the season-long points championship. You simply will have fewer opportunities to get those Best 7 or Best 8 results, and woe to you if you have a DNF or other bad result that you need to replace.

The 2016 WORS schedule looks like this:

  1. Iola Bump & Jump @ Iola, May 15
  2. Battle of CamRock @ Rockdale, June 5
  3. Mt. Morris Challenge @ Mt. Morris, June 12
  4. Red Flint Firecracker @ Eau Claire, June 26
  5. Colectivo Coffee Bean Classic @ Waukesha, July 10
  6. WORS Cup @ Portage, July 22-24
  7. Hixon Forest Epic @ La Crosse, August 7
  8. Reforestation Ramble @ Suamico, August 21
  9. Treadfest @ Lake Geneva, September 11
  10. Sheboygan MTB Challenge @ Sheboygan, October 2

I haven’t done any planning, but my 2016 mountain bike season probably will include a mix of WORS and WEMS events with no series ambitions in either. I am likely to do the short track race at the WORS Cup, and I definitely want to go for another win at the Reforestation Ramble. Lake Geneva and Sheboygan are out because they will conflict with cyclocross. Eau Claire and La Crosse are probably out because they are on the other side of the state and I won’t have a big travel budget. The WEMS schedule has not yet been announced.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Heckle, Jekyll & Hyde

Gray skies are gonna clear up … (Nicki Lock photo)

It’s hard to believe, but the end of this year’s WCA cyclocross season is already in sight. In just four weeks we will crown our state champions. I won’t be one of them. But at least I feel like a Cat 3 again. Yesterday I was just a rolling roadblock.

Sun Prairie Cup

Saturday was weird. It was very warm early in the morning and then got progressively colder. That’s opposite of our normal weather pattern. It also was overcast and very windy, which is sadly common. I worked overnight on Friday, then hurried home to find carpool partner Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) already waiting in my driveway. We got to Sun Prairie and pre-rode the course. Standard stuff. When the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began, I got a decent start and was pretty happy with my position at the end of the first two laps.

And then it rained. It wasn’t a downpour by any means, but a persistent heavy mist that quickly changed the nature of the course. With so many off-camber features in play, racers soon discovered that they no longer could ride certain sections that they had ridden before. I fared worse than most, and with each position I lost I was less motivated to push on. The finish line couldn’t come soon enough. I took 21st out of 24 overall and was dead last among the 13 Category 3 racers. JW Miller (Erik’s) took the win, followed by Jeff Melcher (Team Pedal Moraine) and Arlen Spicer (Belgianwerkx). I can grind it out in the rain on level ground, but not on the sides of hills. It was just a bad race for me. In the parking lot, Timm Jacobson (KS Energy Services / MOSH / Team Wisconsin) said I looked skinny. It was the only compliment I got all day, and I wasn’t sure I deserved even that small kindness.

Celtic Cross

As it turns out, Timm was right. Today began with a weigh-in: 186 pounds, my lowest since … I literally don’t know. I bought a new bathroom scale in May 2014, replacing one that I knew was extremely inaccurate. I was 202 pounds at that time. So, I had a big bowl of cereal and two donuts for breakfast before heading to Fitchburg. And just before the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race started I had a Coke and not one but two packets of GU. I wouldn’t want to leave myself under-nourished.

Racing in brilliant sunshine on a dry, flat course, I made a strong start. But early in Lap 1 my front wheel washed out on a deep bed of pine needles and down I went. That may have been the moment that ultimately cost me a Top 10 finish, though I recovered quickly. The rest of the race was bobble free. I rode strongly and confidently on a course that was more technical when it came into the WCA series last year. This year’s version was perfect for a hammer-down rider of modest bike handling skills. And there was something to play for all the way to the finish line. Close rival Mark Badger (Brazen Dropouts) pressed me hard on the final lap but couldn’t out-sprint me on the short straightaway after the final turn. I took 11th out of 20 overall and 6th out of the 10 Cat 3s. John Lirette (unattached) was today’s winner, followed by Miller and Spicer.

Up Next

On Saturday I plan to be at Milwaukee’s Washington Park for the annual Halloween Cross race. The atmosphere is always fun even if I don’t usually race well on that course. The last Milwaukee-area race of the season will be at Estabrook Park on Nov. 7, then we do a Dane County double on Nov. 14 and 15 with races at CamRock and at Madison’s Hiestand Park, respectively. The state championships will be held on Nov. 21 at Waterloo, the course on which I had my highest finish in 2014.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

2015 Grafton PumpkinCross

I guess this race just doesn’t like me.

Last year at PumpkinCross, my chain rattled off during a bumpy descent and I had to dismount to fix it, losing a handful of positions while I was stopped. I was able to regain some of those positions, but that mechanical issue prevented me from having a much better result. And it didn’t help that I was overlooked for a call-up at the start of the race, despite being the series points leader at the time.

Today at PumpkinCross, a flat rear tire got me. I had started reasonably well and was running in the middle of the pack at the end of Lap 1. But I pinch-flatted early in Lap 2. It took a while for me to realize I had a problem, but when I did there was nothing to do but hoist the bike onto my shoulder and run to the pit area. It took almost 5 minutes from the time I started running until the time I was able to ride again: I resumed with a borrowed wheel from the SRAM neutral support mechanic. But the front of the race then lapped me and my main rivals were impossibly out of reach. Though I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to take a DNF, I needed more than that for motivation. On my final lap I spotted Kurt Greenslit (Colavita Racing), who had passed me during my run. Greenslit is an opponent I know well—today’s race was our 22nd head-to-head matchup—and I was confident I could close the gap and make the pass. Retaking that position was just a consolation prize, but it was good for my morale on a disappointing day.

I placed 23rd out of 30 overall in a race that was tough on equipment. Four riders failed to finish, and perhaps it was just foolish pride that prevented me from being the fifth. I didn’t quit when I easily could have, and that means something to me. I was 8th out of the 9 Category 3 racers in the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 field. Team Pedal Moraine captain Jeff Melcher was today’s winner.

Without the flat tire, I might have finished 10 places higher today. I had a similar result at Washington Park in 2011. Things break sometimes, and it doesn’t pay to worry too much about what happened today.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The WORS Cup Effect

The 2015 season of the Wisconsin Off-Road Series ended in Sheboygan on Oct. 11, but for many racers the season was effectively over in July. In almost every category and age group, the winner of the year-long points title was the person who collected the most points at the WORS Cup, held July 24-26 at Cascade Mountain in Portage. As I will demonstrate, the manner in which WORS awarded points on that weekend had negative and presumably unintended consequences. Bluntly stated, the WORS Cup provided the margin by which some racers obtained state championships that should have gone to others.

Like all events in the series, the WORS Cup features a cross country (XC) race. But it also features Super D and short track cross country (STXC), races that aren’t just unique on the WORS calendar, but also are the only USA Cycling-sanctioned races of their kind in Wisconsin. This year WORS awarded double points to any racer who competed in the XC race and either Super D or STXC. You had to do your best in the XC race, then those points would double if you merely lined up for one of the others. The WORS Cup did produce deserving winners in every race, but one result should not count as two.

Let’s look at what happened to West Bend’s Julie Schmitt in the Citizens series for women, ages 45-54. The points championship was based on each racer’s seven best results. Julie competed in all 12 XC races and finished with 9 wins. Her seven best results were wins, and yet she didn’t win the series. The new state champion is Wausau’s Christine Kysely. Head-to-head, Julie was 12-0 against Christine and the time gaps were enormous. The closest race between them was at Rhinelander, where Julie beat Christine by almost 18 minutes. So, how did Christine amass 1496 points to Julie’s 1425?

Julie won the XC race at the WORS Cup but did not compete in the Super D or STXC. Christine was 3rd in the XC race. She then placed 4th out of 4 in her age group and 10th out of 10 Cat 2/3 women overall in STXC, and based on her participation in that race she doubled her 186 XC points and finished the weekend with a 372-200 edge on Julie. Again, by season’s end Julie had 9 wins and only 7 of them were fully accounted for within the format by which the series winner was determined; each of her other finishes added 5 participation points to her total. New victories simply replaced old victories: 200 + 200 didn’t add up to 400, it added up only to 205. There was no way to overcome the 172-point bump that Christine got at the WORS Cup, no matter how dominant Julie was at every subsequent event. That’s the WORS Cup Effect.

This can’t be what WORS intended. The WORS Cup doesn’t just devalue every other race in the series, it also forces anyone with overall series ambitions to race in at least one discipline that he or she probably experiences just once all year. In some categories, that means racing on two different days during the three-day WORS Cup weekend. For some people, the unique schedule of that weekend presents a real hardship. Whatever the case, winning the XC series championship should not depend on your participation in a Super D or STXC race. If the double points incentive exists only to increase participation in Super D and STXC, then it’s well-meant but ill-conceived. The better solution is to recognize Super D and STXC as disciplines apart from XC, to offer a series of such races that includes other WORS weekends, and to honor separate sets of champions for them. As things stand, it’s easy to imagine a WORS Cup where some XC racers cynically roll across the start line of the Super D and STXC races and then immediately take a DNF. In any other race that would be worth just 1 point, but at the WORS Cup it’s worth at least 100 and as much as 200 points. For as little as $20 and at no hazard to body or bike, you can greatly increase your chance of winning the series. Come on. Let’s fix this for 2016.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Mid-Season Break

One of my goals this season is to compete in the Wisconsin state cyclocross championships. I have been racing cyclocross since 2011 but I have never lined up for the season finale. Usually that was because the weather was unacceptably cold. The -12 wind chill of December 2013 made it easy for me to stay in bed, and while that morning was uncommonly harsh it wasn’t alone in being too cold for me.

This year the championships will be held on November 21 and suddenly that’s just 6 weeks away. I don’t have any realistic chance to win the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 title, but I want to give my best effort. To that end, it might have made sense to line up last weekend for the Trek CXC Cup. The 2-day, non-series event carried UCI C1/C2 designation, making it the highest ranking cyclocross event in the state this year. Defending national champions Jeremy Powers and Katie Compton were there, and if it were good enough for them it should have been good enough for me, right?

Yes and no. Racing is the best training and being thoroughly flogged at the Trek CXC Cup would have been good for my fitness even if it had been crushing for my ego. But it’s not a bad thing to step back momentarily from high intensity efforts to let body and mind recover. My weekend training consisted of endurance-pace road rides. I finished last week with 10.5 hours in the saddle and a total of 179 miles. That’s good training volume for this time of year. This week I will do a couple of shorter, harder efforts to prepare for PumpkinCross in Grafton on Saturday.

My mother was in town last weekend for a rare visit, so there was never a doubt that I would skip the Trek CXC Cup. On Sunday morning, Mom sat down with me to watch the Bpost Bank series cyclocross race from Belgium and then the conclusion of Paris-Tours from France. I think she was less impressed with the racing than with the technology that brings European TV into my living room.

I surprised myself by emerging from last weekend without any weight gain. Mom’s visit included a couple of big restaurant meals of the sort that kill good diets, but I guess I did just enough riding to keep things in balance. I hit my lowest weight of the year last Wednesday and with proper training I could lose a few more pounds before the state championships. There are hills at Firemen’s Park in Waterloo, so anything I can do to increase power-to-weight would be a smart move.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cyclocross In Oshkosh, B’Gosh

Harder than it looks: Jeff Wren and I took different lines on the course's toughest hill. (Cindy Petted photo)

Historically, the WCA cyclocross series has been dominated by events in Wisconsin’s largest cities: Milwaukee and Madison. But this year the series has stretched its boundaries a bit. We opened the season last month in Manitowoc, and today the good folks in Oshkosh treated us to The People’s Cross, a race that will be remembered for its succession of steep hills.

Pre-riding the course early in the morning, my attempt at the first hill was unsuccessful. Picking a good line was important and I didn’t get it right until my second attempt about an hour later. I was able to ride everything else, so conquering the first hill gave me confidence that I would be able to ride it during the race. The “feel” of that first hill was very similar to the top of the sledding hill at Royal Oaks Park in West Bend, a summit I reached again and again during Tuesday practice sessions.

When the Masters 45+ Cat 1/2/3/4 race began, I got an unimpressive start from the front row. Most of the guys who eventually finished ahead of me reached the first turn ahead of me. And just as I was starting to settle in, Quentin Gniot (Gryphon Velo Racing) shot past. John Lichtenberg (Diablo Cycling) came around next and quickly rode away. But approaching that first tough hill, Christopher St. Clair (Milwaukee Bicycle Company) crashed and interrupted Gniot’s momentum. For the next couple of laps, Gniot and I rode together and I was encouraged to be matching so strong a rider.

Then Gniot had his own miscue: a tiny bobble on the last hill of the lap. It was all I needed to get by him. As I began to pull out a comfortable advantage, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) jumped into the gap. And Wren was bad news for me for a couple of laps. He went ahead of me for a little while but when I retook the position from him I was confident I would keep it. I had just a small lead when we saw the 2 laps to go sign, and I was sure the race leader would soon pass us. That would mean we really had just 1 lap to go, so I increased my effort to get rid of Wren as quickly as possible. But the leader never lapped us, so in fact we did complete 2 more laps and my advantage over Wren grew all the while. In the end I was 9th of 17 overall, 7th of the 11 Cat 3 racers. John Lirette (unattached) took the win, followed by Greg Ferguson (Trek Midwest Team) and Ted Schaff (Diablo Cycling).

The Trek CXC Cup—a 2-day, non-series event that will attract some of the top domestic professionals from across the US—will take place in Waterloo next weekend but I won’t be there. My next race will be Belgianwerkx’s PumpkinCross in Grafton on Oct. 17. It’s the closest race to home and it always features an interesting course.