Friday, January 27, 2017

Wisconsin Cyclocross Hits The Big Time!

World Champion Wout Van Aert at the start of the 2016 Trek CXC Cup. (Anthony James photo)

What a moment for cyclocross in Wisconsin! Today the UCI announced its 2017-18 World Cup schedule and the biggest race in the Badger State is now one of the biggest races on the planet. Mark your calendars: Trek Headquarters, Waterloo, September 24.

Trek brought UCI cyclocross to Waterloo in 2013. And the Trek CXC Cup was always a top domestic race, but in 2016 it achieved international attention when most of the top Europeans used it as a tune-up for CrossVegas and Jingle Cross. For the 2017-18 season, CrossVegas drops down a notch and Trek takes its place in the World Cup. Here’s the full schedule:

09/16: Iowa City IA, USA (Jingle Cross)
09/24: Waterloo WI, USA (Trek CXC Cup)
10/22: Koksijde, Belgium
11/19: Bogense, Denmark
11/25: Zeven, Germany
12/17: Namur, Belgium
12/26: Heusden-Zolder, Belgium
01/21: Nommay, France
01/28: Hoogerheide, Netherlands

Amateur and non-World Cup professional races will accompany the main events on those weekends. And, as in years past, you can be sure the Wisconsin Cycling Association won’t schedule any of its own events on Trek’s weekend. Whether the WCA also will steer clear of Jingle Cross remains to be seen. For Wisconsin racers, Trek is now indisputably the bigger prize. A smaller WCA race outside of the Milwaukee-Madison corridor might take a chance on September 16-17.

CrossVegas will remain a prominent domestic race, but one wonders how many Europeans will take interest. It falls on Wednesday night, September 20, right between the two World Cup races. I predict most of the top racers will prefer to stay in the Midwest than to burden themselves with additional travel expenses. We might be witnessing CrossVegas in its death throes, as it always has coincided with the Interbike trade show, which is known to be looking for a new home. My recommendation: Chicago. It’s close enough to Iowa City and to Waterloo for O’Hare to serve as the international airport of choice, it has essentially unlimited hotel and expo space, and the impending development of the Big Marsh bike park could provide a race venue to replace CrossVegas. For Europeans accustomed to short distances between major races, a 10-day block that includes Jingle Cross, Big Marsh and Trek would be attractive. For American fans, it would be 10 days at the center of the cycling world and just maybe a precursor of another UCI World Championships week on American soil. Louisville KY had the honor of hosting the World Championship in 2013, the first (and still only) time the championships have been held outside of Europe.

Yes, someday we might look back on today’s announcement as a watershed occasion in American cyclocross. For now, let’s thank Trek for its commitment to the sport and in turn commit ourselves to support the race and the riders who come to Wisconsin to entertain us.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

My Proposal For Glacier Hills

If you live in the Richfield/Hubertus area, then you're kind of far from a mountain bike trail.

We're at the very beginning of a process that could take years to produce results. Or, it might never produce results, but it's worth a shot. This was my proposal to Washington County's Planning & Parks Department at yesterday's public input session.

  • Washington County Planning & Parks seeks to raise revenue from its park properties to ensure their ongoing maintenance. To that end, the department is contemplating a user fee, the implementation of which will prove unpopular with park users if it is not accompanied by new amenities.
  • Mountain biking is a popular activity in southeastern Wisconsin for which riders routinely pay access fees.
  • Biking of any kind is currently prohibited on trails in Washington County parks.
  • Most county park properties are too small and too flat to be attractive options for the development of mountain bike trails. Glacier Hills is uniquely qualified.
  • Glacier Hills is located 30 minutes (by car) from each of the nearest public mountain bike trail systems: Minooka Park in Waukesha, Pleasant Valley Park in the Town of Cedarburg, and Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area in West Bend.
  • A properly developed mountain bike trail system at Glacier Hills, combined with a properly priced fee structure from Washington County, would make the park an attractive alternative to its more expensive neighbors.
Pleasant Valley: No fees.
Glacial Blue Hills: No fees.
Minooka Park: No trail fee. Motor vehicle fee of $4 per day or $32 per year.
All DNR properties (e.g., New Fane, Greenbush, Emma Carlin, John Muir): Trail fee of $5 per day or $25 per year. Motor vehicle fee of $8 per day or $28 per year.
CamRock: Trail fee of $5 per day or $16 per year. No motor vehicle fee.
  • Attracting mountain bikers to Glacier Hills would create revenue without creating new development/maintenance burdens, as trail construction and upkeep would be the responsibility of the mountain bikers themselves, in consultation with and subject to the approval of Planning & Parks. Such a relationship between the volunteers and the land owners already exists at the other trails.
  • There are three options for mountain bike access at Glacier Hills:
  1. Use the existing hiking trails only
  2. Develop mountain bike segments, connected by existing trails
  3. Develop a completely separate mountain bike trail
  • In Wisconsin, mountain bikers show an overwhelming preference for singletrack: narrow, winding trails that, at times, require advanced riding skills. The hiking trails at Glacier Hills would prove unpopular with riders. Those trails were not constructed for mountain biking and feature a lot of steep elevation change, and therefore would be prone to significant erosion. Add the potential for conflicts with hikers and it’s clear that the first option should be rejected.
  • Flat sections of the hiking trails could be useful to connect new singletrack segments. Glacial Blue Hills and CamRock feature such sections, with no significant conflicts between riders and hikers.
  • The best solution is a completely separate mountain bike trail system that merely intersects with the hiking trails as infrequently as possible. This model will take the most volunteer labor to construct and to maintain, but it offers riders the experience they prefer and minimizes potential conflicts with hikers.
  • Not all activities are suitable for all county park properties. Mountain biking could be unique to Glacier Hills and the ban on bikes could continue at the other parks.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Get While The Gettin’s Good

Nice weekend! For me, back-to-back days above 40° meant back-to-back days on the bike for the first time since November 26-27. I rode solo on Saturday, really just cruising around town to check the condition of the park paths. A lot of them continue to be compromised by snow and ice. I saw deep ruts in the unpaved part of the Eisenbahn State Trail where the asphalt ends, so I stayed off. Today was an altogether different experience: a 40-mile road ride to Lake Bernice and back with Jeff Wren. It was slow, but that didn’t matter. This is January, so being able to ride outside at all is a treat. Today’s ride was my longest ever in January, and my first 40-miler since October 29. I’m at an even 100 miles for the year. In 2015 I set a personal record of 241 miles in January. I don’t think I will top that this year, as sub-freezing temperatures will be back in a few days. But tomorrow might be 40° again, and that will draw me outside for a few more solo miles.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Freeze, Thaw, Cycle

City streets are the way to go right now. Park paths, like this one at Regner, are not to be trusted.
Not another blog post about the weather! That’s what you’re thinking, and you’re in luck. (Skip the last two paragraphs if you’re really sick of it.) Let’s go over my basic plan for 2017. Every winter I lay out a special events schedule for the upcoming season, and in recent years I have predicted with pretty fair accuracy the races and other rides that I would eventually do. You can see my current best guess for 2017 by clicking the My 2017 Calendar tab near the top of this page. I expect mountain bike racing to be the focus of my season, so I won’t return to Race The Lake this season and I expect to race a reduced cyclocross schedule in September and October. Of course, races and other special events will account for only a handful of the 150-200 times I will ride this year. A typical week is going to look something like this:

Monday:    Endurance-paced road or rec trail ride
Tuesday:   “Flex Day”
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday:  Mountain bike practice at New Fane
Friday:    Endurance ride on non-race weekends, a short TT otherwise
Saturday:  Race, or practice/pre-ride at a future race venue
Sunday:    Race, or practice/pre-ride at a future race venue

Several of the races on my 2017 calendar are at trails I have never seen or where I have ridden only 1-2 times. For distant WORS locations like Eau Claire and La Crosse, pre-riding on the day before the race will have to suffice. But I will try to find extra time for closer venues like CamRock and Waukesha’s Minooka Park. WEMS weekends don’t have pre-ride windows; it’s show and go. But Alpine Valley, Silver Lake and Greenbush are reasonably close to home, so there’s no reason not to practice there in advance of those dates. Greenbush is the closest of the three and the site of this year’s WEMS Championship in October. I will try to see it at least once a month, May through September.

“Flex Day” will be a time to address any immediate gaps in my training. If I’m approaching a race on a technical course, then I will use that Tuesday to ride technical trails. Sometimes it will be a hill climbing day. Sometimes it will be a chance to make up for a scheduled workout that was lost to bad weather. Sometimes it will be an extra rest day if I’m feeling a little burned out. (Ideally, Monday would be my normal rest day, but my unusual work schedule makes it the best weekday for training.) I will dedicate Tuesdays to cyclocross practice in August and September, but it will be “Flex Day” until then.

I got outside today for my second ride of the new year. It wasn’t much; our recent cycle of freezing and thawing has left a really dangerous mix of conditions. You can be on a perfectly dry piece of asphalt and then find yourself on a sheet of ice as soon as you reach a spot that doesn’t get any direct sunlight. Last Saturday I could barely walk the trails at Glacier Hills County Park, and yesterday the county shut the park down:

It looks like we’re going to be WAY above freezing for the next 4-5 days, and there isn’t much snow left to melt. Hopefully the ice will be gone soon and I can get outside more regularly.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Glacier Hills County Park

The pine plantation is one of the only flat spots on these trails.

Today I went for a solo hike at Glacier Hills County Park in southern Washington County. I spent most of my time on the black loop—at roughly 2.5 miles, it’s the park’s longest trail. In Tuesday’s blog post I mentioned that Glacier Hills has some potential as a mountain biking venue, and I was thinking of the black loop in particular. Due to extremely icy conditions, today I saw the trail at a very slow pace. I came away with the impression that it’s a place where, in spring and summer, I would enjoy riding my mountain bike ... if that were permitted.

But would enough people enjoy it? Existing trails at Glacier Hills are wide, straight and not in the least technical. Their outstanding feature is their elevation change: a succession of long climbs and descents with very little flat ground. Riding there would be a real aerobic challenge, but it would not be a bike handling challenge. Without singletrack, the appeal of Glacier Hills might be too limited. The park covers 140 acres, so there’s plenty of space for new trails. And it could work just like New Fane: separate trail systems for hikers and mountain bikers, minimizing potential conflicts. But to make the park a true mountain biking destination would require hundreds of volunteer hours. Washington County is looking to save money on parks, not to take on new development.

Glacier Hills really is the only county park property suitable for mountain biking, and adding to the argument is the fact that the growing Richfield/Hubertus area isn’t close to any existing mountain bike trails. If you live in that area, then where do you go to ride? Our regional IMBA chapter looked at a different property not far from there, but no development resulted. Now that the Pleasant Valley and Port Washington trails are done in Ozaukee County, would the IMBA guys take on a new project at Glacier Hills? The first step is to remove Washington County’s exclusion of bikes from its park trails, something we can request at these public input sessions:

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

I Meet And Dull

And this, people, is why we all have to respect the conference room sign-up sheet!

These early days of 2017 have been filled with thoughts of cycling and plans for the future, as our weather has allowed for little else. I did a 25-mile road ride on New Year’s Day, but those are my only miles this year. During the last week we had weather that wasn’t good for anything: very cold and free of any new snow. The cold temperatures kept me off the road. The sparse covering of poor quality snow was unsuitable for the cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fatbike enthusiasts. As far as I can tell, nobody was happy. We got a little fresh snow last night, but today we soared above the freezing mark for the first time since January 3, eventually hitting a high of 45°, which is 19° above normal. That would have been bad news for snow conditions even without the all-day rain that rode in on the warmer air. But snow conditions don’t trouble me much; I just want access to the roads. Without it, I have too much time on my hands. Talking about cycling goes only so far.

Last Friday I had a meeting with representatives from Bike Friendly West Bend and the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust on a topic in which I have a lot of personal interest: how to connect the Eisenbahn State Trail to the Ozaukee Interurban Trail. There’s no clear winner; every potential corridor has major drawbacks. I think the most attractive option would be a Milwaukee River Trail linking West Bend to Newburg. That would take us to the Ozaukee County line, but from there it’s uncertain how we could get to the Interurban. For a rider like me, it’s easy enough to do on the road, but the goal is to create an off-road route as part of the Route Of The Badger initiative.

Today I attended the January meeting of Bike Friendly West Bend, the big news from which is that a master bike and pedestrian plan is now ready for the consideration of the city council. BFWB will present the plan at City Hall on Monday, January 23. On that same evening, Washington County’s Planning & Parks Department will hold a public input meeting at City Hall as it looks for ways to cut costs and generate revenue. I will be there to advocate greater access for bikes. I don’t know that there’s a lot to be gained by opening county park trails to bikes, but at least it’s an idea. The county seems determined to institute a user fee and that will be a hard sell if new amenities don’t accompany it. Glacier Hills County Park—don’t confuse it with West Bend’s Glacial Blue Hills Recreation Area—has some potential as a mountain biking venue. Whether you would pay to ride there is another matter. The county will hold a second public input meeting on Tuesday, January 24, in Germantown.

But like I said before, talking about cycling goes only so far. Next week might bring a few dry days in the mid-30s. That would get me out on the bike again and I badly need it. Yes, I rode on New Year’s Day and those 25 miles weren’t a strain on my endurance, but I wasn’t sharp. The bike still had 20 speeds but my legs had only 1. Since the end of November I have lost a lot of cycling-specific fitness and gained a lot of weight. Strength workouts in the home gym are going well, but I haven’t committed to the turbo trainer yet. With my mountain bike racing season now less than 17 weeks away, I can’t wait too much longer to return to form.