Sunday, April 30, 2017

Not Your Average Cheesehead Roubaix

Lovers Lane is bad enough when it’s dry! Click here to see all the great Moroder Photography shots.

In years to come I hope I will remember the 2017 Cheesehead Roubaix as “the weird one.”

Today was the 8th annual running of my interpretation of the Spring Classics, and it was notable for two things. The first was the weather. Around here, an average April 30 has a low temperature of 40° overnight and a high temperature of 61° in the afternoon. Today’s high temperature was 41° ... and that doesn’t figure in the winds. With 10-20 mph winds from the northeast, the wind chill was in the low 30s. (It was 27° early this morning when I was setting up some of the signs along the route.) Mist and light rain fell throughout the ride. Conditions were just about as bad as they could have been. At least it didn’t snow, I guess. At least there wasn’t any lightning, I guess.

The second thing that made this year’s Cheesehead Roubaix so different for me was that I didn’t ride it. As the event’s creator, I had never missed a chance to see the ride from behind the handlebar. But today I saw it from behind the steering wheel of my minivan. In fact, I saw most of the route more than once. Cheesehead Roubaix is intended for the self-sufficient, but conditions were so rough today that my conscience wouldn’t allow me to leave the riders without any support. As you might imagine, poor weather had a dramatic effect on the turnout. For the last couple of years I have been getting about 300 riders, but today I had only about 30. That meant each rider had fewer companions on whom he/she could rely, and many riders rode long stretches of the route alone. A couple of riders bugged out after climbing Lovers Lane. At least 11 abandoned at the Belgianwerkx-sponsored rest stop in the Village of Belgium, roughly halfway through the route. I provided transportation for 2 of them. Short-cutting the route on my return to Belgium, I saw a few more riders feeling their way back to Newburg.

Newburg itself was a little different this year. During the winter, an ice jam caused the Milwaukee River to flood Newburg Fireman’s Park. The fire department is still working to reverse the damage, and the parking lot was not available to us today. We’ve had nearly double the normal amount of rainfall for April, slowing the park’s restoration. But the fire department did come through with a portable toilet, and the post-ride snacks available at the concessions stand were a nice treat for several riders. Between concessions sales and cash donations, today netted about $300 for the department—a big drop from last year, but not bad under the circumstances.

Today’s ride was challenged by some of the worst weather Cheesehead Roubaix has ever seen. When the temperature is 20° below normal and the whole day is wet, windy, and dark … what can you do? Today the people behind the ride supported the riders in more direct and personal ways than ever before. Next year we might have beautiful weather and 300 riders and a bucket full of cash for the fire department and things will be back to normal. And normal at Cheesehead Roubaix is pretty great. Today was weird, but hopefully the people who showed up thought it was pretty great anyway. We did our best to make it so.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Let’s Take It Statewide

All of Wisconsin deserves a cyclocross series, not just the I-94 corridor.
Yesterday’s release of the 2017 WCA cyclocross calendar once again confirmed the big city bias of which I have written before. And I don’t mean that as an indictment of the people behind the series. It makes sense to hold races where a lot of people will attend and where the promoters can at least cover their costs. Where do you find a lot of people? In the I-94 corridor that connects Milwaukee and Madison.

Races in cities like Oshkosh and Wausau prove that even great promoters with great courses cannot count on the support of racers from the I-94 corridor. As I have said before, the big city racers are spoiled to the point where a lot of Milwaukee folks skip the Madison races and a lot of Madison folks skip the Milwaukee races! The SuperCup—the 12 races that actually count toward the series championship—is split evenly between Milwaukee and Madison. And only your best 6 results count in the SuperCup standings, so in theory you could win the championship without ever leaving your home territory.

Maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe Wisconsin is just too big for one series. It’s 430 miles from the Superior in the northwest to Kenosha in the southeast. This isn’t a small state and our population is not evenly distributed across it. So, what if instead of marginalizing races in cities like Oshkosh and Wausau, we made them important to their own series? Take the 18 races on the 2017 WCA schedule, pull out the state championship because it belongs to everybody, and split the others by region:

For now, drop the “best 6” provision and count all race results within each regional series. The “best 6” concept can be revisited if the regional series grow. And let them grow! Allow each region to establish its own schedule even if the dates conflict. Some will argue that to do so would be to split a finite pool of racers into too many small pieces, making it harder for promoters to attract enough racers to cover their costs. I don’t agree. We’re already split. Just look at the results of past races to see how reluctant racers are to leave home turf. The greatest challenge to multiple races on the same date may be the availability of USA Cycling officials. While I’m not sure we have enough at present, we can do more to attract, train, and then retain them.

What if you could add Green Bay and Appleton to SuperCup-North? What if SuperCup-North split into Northeast and Northwest someday after welcoming places like Superior, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and exurban Minneapolis-St. Paul into the fold? The current WCA model discourages racing in those parts of the state. There is and shall remain just one state championship, and it’s a big enough prize to pull in people from all over. But clearly the SuperCup is not. The “best 6” rule is itself a concession to the reluctance of racers to travel to every race in pursuit of every point. By splitting the series into regions, every race would matter again, if only within their own regions, and markets the WCA has either ignored or underserved would have a chance to develop.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The 2017 WCA Cyclocross Schedule

Surprise, surprise, surprise!

This morning the Wisconsin Cycling Association announced its 2017 cyclocross schedule and there are definitely some surprises. Here’s the schedule itself:

09/09 Sa - SuperCup: Cross-Shooshko, Milwaukee
09/10 Su - SuperCup: VeloCause CX, Milwaukee
09/30 Sa - Flyover Silver Creek CX, Manitowoc
10/01 Su - Cross Of The North, Wausau
10/07 Sa - SuperCup: PumpkinCross, Grafton
10/08 Su - Diablo River Cross, Kimberly
10/14 Sa - SuperCup: Fitchonia Cross Omnium, Dane County
10/15 Su - SuperCup: Fitchonia Cross Omnium, Dane County
10/21 Sa - SuperCup: GP Jo Vanderaffe, Milwaukee
10/22 Su - SuperCup: Battle Of Waterloo, Waterloo
10/28 Sa - SuperCup: Crossfire @ Angell Park, Sun Prairie
10/29 Su - SuperCup: Sun Prairie Cup @ Sheehan Park, Sun Prairie
11/04 Sa - SuperCup: Estabrook Park, Milwaukee
11/05 Su - SuperCup: CamRock CX, Cambridge-Rockdale
11/11 Sa - SuperCup: Sijan Cross, Milwaukee
11/12 Su - FatKats CX, Sheboygan
11/18 Sa - Sunnyview Cross, Oshkosh
12/02 Sa - SuperCup: State Championships, Waterloo

Surprise #1: So many Sundays! There is a faction within the WCA that wants to confine this series to Saturdays as much as possible, leaving Sundays open for the Chicago Cyclocross Cup series. Chicago races attract larger fields that include more top-quality racers, making them more valuable to elite Wisconsin racers looking to improve their USA Cycling rankings for nationals. I expected to see some movement away from Sundays this season, but that aspect of the schedule didn’t change.

Surprise #2: Cross Of The North is back. As a new event in 2016, it featured a great course … but dismal attendance due to its location. Wausau is simply too far away from the big population centers of Milwaukee and Madison. Those who do give this race a try will not be disappointed.

Surprise #3: With the GP Jo Vanderaffe, cyclocross will return to Milwaukee’s Mitchell Park Domes. That’s where I did my first-ever cyclocross race back in 2011.

Surprise #4: No Halloween-themed race. It was a tradition at Washington Park in Milwaukee. Then a muddy race damaged the park in 2015 and the threat of rain prompted Milwaukee County to cancel the event in 2016. (OK, maybe this one isn’t that much of a surprise.)

Surprise #5: After a 1-year absence, Sheboygan returns to the schedule … under new management. The FatKats, better known as a mountain biking team, have stepped up to replace Sheboygan Bicycle Company.

And now here’s something that won’t surprise anyone who kept up with my 2016 cyclocross season: I’m going to miss most of these races.

This season my top competitive priority is mountain biking. I’m already registered for WEMS races on Sep. 9 and Oct. 7, dates that otherwise would belong to cyclocross. Cyclocross is still important but I'm not going to put as much pressure on myself as I have in recent years. For example, I have always wanted to do Patriot CX—Sep. 10 in Rantoul IL—but it has always conflicted with something else. And it does again this year, but why shouldn't I do it anyway? Also, as I demonstrated last season, I am reluctant to travel very far for a Saturday race, given the overnight work schedule that keeps me in the office until 7 a.m. on Saturdays. So, this might be the extent of my 2017 WCA schedule:

10/08 Su - Diablo River Cross
10/21 Sa - SuperCup: GP Jo Vanderaffe
10/22 Su - SuperCup: Battle Of Waterloo
11/04 Sa - SuperCup: Estabrook Park
11/05 Su - SuperCup: CamRock CX
11/11 Sa - SuperCup: Sijan Cross
11/12 Su - FatKats CX
11/18 Sa - Sunnyview Cross

Those 8 races plus Patriot CX plus Region Riot Cross in Crown Point IN on Nov. 26 would give me 10 for the year, which is the same number of cyclocross races I typically do. Let’s face it: I’m not competing for a series title or state championship. I should build a schedule that makes me happy.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Stick Around For Joy

This weekend got off to a terrible start. I was at work early Saturday morning when the news of Michele Scarponi’s death reached me. There really is no other sport that loses its stars during training. Automobile racing? It’s not the same. Test laps at the track are conducted in a controlled environment. Scarponi’s training ride was on open roads near home. Like mine. That’s what makes these situations so hard to take. When the best riders in the world can die in almost stereotypical fashion, then how can we deny our own vulnerability? I know the risks, I accept the risks, and I do everything I can to mitigate the risks. There’s a right way to conduct your business out there. It doesn’t guarantee that you will come home, but it greatly improves your chances. As I rode this weekend I thought of Scarponi, and of Amy Dombrowski and of Burry Stander, and still I rode without fear. They weren’t martyrs. I don’t intend to be one either. I’m not riding the roads to prove a point; I’m riding the roads because it pleases me. To degrees great and small, risks are everywhere. Some can be avoided entirely—I will never die in a skydiving accident because I will never go skydiving—but many cannot. Anything to which you give your heart comes with the risk of loss. Your spouse may leave you. Your children may grow up to disavow you. Your friends may betray you. But most likely, those people will be sources of great joy. Cycling is one of my great joys—one of only a few—so it’s worth the risk.

Early this morning I drove most of the Cheesehead Roubaix route and it’s looking good for next Sunday. The wildcard is the weather. Too much rain in the days before the ride could force a detour from low-lying Jay Road, but even rain on Sunday morning will not cancel the event.

There’s no rain in the forecast tomorrow, though, or on Tuesday, and I will need good training rides on both days to make up for the poor effort I gave today. This week I’m going to hit 1,000 miles for 2017, but I’m still not in any kind of groove. I always look to the completion of the first 1,000 miles as a major goal, because historically I “switch on” at that time. No promises this year … except that I will keep looking for the switch.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


Spring has been cool and wet overall, and that’s not unusual around here. This weekend was uncommonly warm and mostly dry, but the winds were very high. It would have been a frustrating time to be on the road bike. Fortunately, I got to hide from the winds at New Fane, whose mountain bike trails opened for the season on Friday. Greenbush is now available too, and I plan to visit it several times before the WEMS Championship there on October 7. This weekend, though, was all about New Fane.

New Fane is important not just because of its proximity, but also because it is the site of the Northern Kettles Fall Epic on September 9. I have done well in that race historically and I intend to do well again this year. A big key to my success there is familiarity. The more practice laps, the better. I did 2 laps yesterday—my first visit to New Fane since last year’s Northern Kettles Fall Epic—and I did 2 more laps today. And they weren’t great. I was slow because I’m out of shape. I was hesitant because prior to this weekend I had only 1 hour on singletrack this year: last Sunday’s trip to Glacial Blue Hills. About all I can say is that today’s laps were faster than yesterday’s laps. It’s a start.

There’s a lot of work to do. Nevertheless, I’m confident that I will get back to where I want to be … in time to give a good account of myself this fall. Whether I will be in anything like race shape by May 6—the date of the WORS season opener—is a more pressing concern. It’s back to the road tomorrow for some fat-burning, endurance-building miles, and then maybe it’s back to the turbo trainer if rain returns on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Good Busy

Stop, paint, drive to the next intersection, stop, paint, drive to the next intersection ...

This was a good weekend. And thanks to my strange work schedule, perhaps it’s not over yet: I’m free on Mondays until late at night, so there’s a better-than-average chance that I’ll spend some time on the bike tomorrow. But even if I don’t, I will remember this weekend as one that was full of cycling in several forms.

On Saturday I did a respectable 30-mile road ride, then returned home just in time to watch streaming coverage of the Sunny King Criterium from Anniston AL, pro women first and then pro men. Entertaining stuff, but really just an hors d’oeuvre for this morning’s Paris-Roubaix. That’s my favorite pro race, and this year’s edition did not disappoint.

Paris-Roubaix ended shortly after 10 a.m., leaving me with the rest of the day to fill with my own cycling activities. Knowing that it was going to be a dry day—and knowing that I can’t always count on those—I was determined to prepare the roads for Cheesehead Roubaix, now just 3 weeks away. Jeff Wren joined me and we knocked out the route in about 3.5 hours, which is roughly how long it takes to ride those 63 miles! But stopping at every intersection to paint logos and directional arrows is tedious work. And it was work that alternated between hot and cold: with a strong wind from the southeast, we were toasty as long as we were a couple of miles inland, but chilled when we were close to Lake Michigan.

In West Bend the temperature reached 73° this afternoon, just 3° from the all-time record. It was our warmest day so far this year and our first 70° day since November 17. Starting at 5:30 p.m.—love me some Daylight Saving Time—I spent an hour working on mountain biking skills at Glacial Blue Hills. It was my first time on singletrack since the WEMS race at New Fane on September 17. The long layoff and my relative unfamiliarity with the trails was evident, but at least it was a step in the right direction as I prepare for the mountain bike racing season.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Steve Tilford

American bike racing legend Steve Tilford died today from injuries he sustained in a multi-vehicle accident on a Utah highway. Tilford, 57, was a versatile racer who competed at the highest level across multiple cycling disciplines. Among his accomplishments:

  • 4 elite US national cyclocross championships
  • 2 masters world cyclocross championships
  • 5 masters world mountain bike championships
  • Winner of the 1st US national mountain bike championship
  • Mountain Bike Hall of Fame inductee

A native of Topeka KS, Tilford was no stranger to Wisconsin. He won masters titles at the USA Cycling National Cyclocross Championships at Badger Prairie in 2012 and 2013. He was a 3-time winner (2000, 2001, 2002) of the Chequamegon 40 mountain bike race, and a top competitor on the road at both SuperWeek and its successor, the Tour of America’s Dairyland.

From his popular blog, Tilford influenced the culture of bike racing in America by arguing for rule changes and against performance-enhancing drugs. His competitive spirit and his voice of reason will be missed.