Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Unofficial Start Of The CX Season

The Tuesday evening cyclocross practice series begins one week from today. And, humble though it is, let me disabuse you of the notion that it just happens without forethought or effort. Today, Jeff Wren (Team Extreme) and I broke out the rakes, clippers, and pruners to ensure a clear path through the woods for next week’s session at Royal Oaks. The park is in fantastic shape. It’s kind of a shame we didn’t have an official practice today.

But we did have an unofficial one! Both Jeff and I have new cyclocross bikes for the 2018 season, so when the groundskeeping was done we went through an equipment shakedown. I got immediate results from lowering my saddle. Jeff might be looking into swapping out his stock handlebar for a wider one. We’ll probably find a few more things to adjust before the WCA season begins on September 8, and that’s fine. That’s one of the best things about cyclocross practice.

My biggest concern coming out of today’s practice is gearing. My easiest combination on the new bike is 40x28, and that might not work for me on the toughest hills of the WCA series. I’m thinking mostly of Manitowoc and Grafton, but even places like Milwaukee’s Humboldt Park and both venues in Waterloo have some short, steep sections. I got up all of the climbs at Royal Oaks today, even the seldom-used singletrack on the east side of the sledding hill, but I surely wouldn’t mind an 11-36 cassette. That would mean a new chain too, so there goes another $125 for the set. Oh, well … it’s only money.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Quiet Saturday

I usually fill mid-summer Saturdays with long bike rides. Not today. After leaving work at 7 a.m., I returned to West Bend to have breakfast and to watch a little of the Tour de France. By 9 a.m. I was at the corner of Hillside and Sleeping Dragon to run one of the rest stops on the Wisconsin Women Century. By 2 p.m. I was home again and by 2:30 I was sleeping soundly. At 6 p.m. I got up and knocked out a quick 20 miles on the road bike. I’ll go longer tomorrow: my 100th bike ride of 2018 will put me over the 3,000-mile mark. Last year I didn’t hit 3,000 miles until August 2, so I’m a little ahead of that schedule and still on pace for a 5,000-mile year.

Friday, July 20, 2018

My 2017 Trek Boone 7

Few things in my world are as exciting as New Bike Day, even when that new bike is “new, old stock.” Trek recently marked down its unsold 2017 Boone 7 cyclocross bikes to $1,800—they were $3,000 originally—and my neighborhood shop, Pedal Moraine, was able to make the deal even sweeter. It was the right time to take the plunge. With the purchase of this bike, I have committed to cyclocross at a deeper level than ever before.

In most ways, the 2017 Boone 7 is the same bike as the $4,000, top-of-the-line, 2018 Boone 7 Disc: same carbon fiber frame, same tires, same shifter, same single-ring crankset, same bottom bracket, same seatpost. If you’re looking for the big difference, the name of this year’s model is a dead giveaway: like most other manufacturers, Trek has gone all-in with disc brakes for cyclocross. My Boone has TRP RevoX cantilever brakes. So, the bikes have slightly different forks and slightly different wheelsets—the new Boone also gets a carbon handlebar and a “better” saddle, though I have always found saddle comfort to be unrelated to price—but without the extra hardware required by disc brakes, my Boone is half a pound lighter than its younger sibling. (It’s something like 5-6 pounds lighter than my 2011 Diamondback Steilacoom, the aluminum bike the Boone will replace at the races!)

My Boone has everything I ever wanted in a cyclocross bike ... except for disc brakes. But when this deal was taking shape, I had to rethink why I wanted disc brakes in the first place. The answer was something like, “Well, that’s where the industry is heading.” And that wasn’t a good enough answer. It certainly wasn’t a $4,000 answer! Like thousands of riders before me, I have always used cantilever brakes for cyclocross. My choice of brakes has never been a limitation. It’s not what keeps me in the bottom half of the Masters Cat 3 field. Sticking with cantilever brakes makes my new cyclocross bike compatible with all of my existing wheelsets, two of which are tubeless-ready like the stock wheels on the Boone. In the last couple of years I have been transitioning out of the Mavic Ksyrium/Aksium line in favor of Shimano Ultegra. My Boone is now outfitted with one of those Ultegra wheelsets. The Bontrager Race Lite wheelset that came with the Boone now will be the primary wheelset for my BMC road bike, allowing me to relegate a well-worn set of Aksiums to backup duty.

There’s something to be said for mechanical simplicity, too. My canti-equipped Boone has fewer moving parts than a disc-equipped cyclocross bike or even my old Diamondback. No more front shifter or front derailleur … 11-speed, but less to maintain, less to break, less to replace. The Diamondback will live on as my gravel and rail trail bike, and as my backup road bike—it has a 46/36 double crankset, giving it more top end speed and more climbing gears than the Boone—and it’s still a capable cyclocross bike if the Boone needs a repair. I still love the Diamondback, but the Boone is on another level and I think the new bike will allow me to get the best out of this season and many more.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

El Contador and Il Cammello

El Contador at the turnaround point in Eden.

This was a 15-hour, 252.5-mile week. Oof! Both of those numbers are personal records. What can I say? The weather was great and I still have a lot of weight to lose before the start of the cyclocross season. Garmin estimates my calorie burn for this week at 16,525, but I’m still dangerously close to 200 pounds. The problem, of course, is that I’m very relaxed about my diet. I’m also massively efficient at doing rides like the one I did today.

Today I went up the Eisenbahn State Trail to Eden and back in the company of, for the first time ever … drum roll, please: Jim Saueressig of Gryphon Velo Racing. Welcome to crunching gravel, Jim! You are a pure roadie no more, and you’ll be better for it.

My ride turned out to be a 50-mile, 3-hour affair, and that’s a solid effort. Still, it was a sweet spot ride. I can crank those out day after day, and I do, and that’s good for overall fitness but not especially effective training for cyclocross. Some big changes are coming. Next week I’ll go shorter but harder.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Chris Froome Fiasco

I haven’t been writing about professional road racing very much lately because I’m disgusted with it. I still love the one-day races, but doping is ruining the Grand Tours. If you follow that side of the sport, then you probably know the UCI on Monday cleared Chris Froome of any wrongdoing despite a test last September that showed he had an asthma drug in his system at two times the concentration allowed by anti-doping rules.

That’s right folks: last September. Froome and Team SKY management took a chapter from the old Lance Armstrong book: Deny, Delay, Denounce.

Froome’s side of the story goes something like this: He never did anything wrong. If the test showed too much asthma medication in his system, then it can only have happened accidentally, or it can be explained by his unique physiology, or the testing process itself is flawed. And asthma drugs aren’t really performance-enhancing anyway. And it’s none of your goddamn business in the first place because the results of the test should have been confidential, but now that you do know about it you had better be on Froome’s side because any criticism of him or of Team SKY is only jealous hatred.

The jealous hatred argument reached its apex of absurdity on Sunday after the Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) attempted to ban Froome from this year’s Tour de France, which will begin on July 7. Froome’s fanboys took to social media to decry the action as an attempt by the French to exclude a non-French rider from the Tour. We were here before during the Armstrong years. The argument was complete crap then and it’s complete crap now. In truth, the ASO’s announcement was a calculated maneuver that forced the UCI’s hand. The ASO got exactly what it wanted: Froome will participate in the Tour because the UCI says it’s OK. The ASO didn’t have to make a controversial decision. Its race will feature the defending champion, and that’s good for business even if most fans are lining up to root against him.

Back in May, with the Froome question still unanswered, the Giro d’Italia also recognized that a race without Froome would be seen as second-rate. But the Giro wasn’t a politically savvy as the Tour: it claimed it had a guarantee from the UCI that Froome’s participation would not be nullified even if he subsequently were found guilty of doping. Shame on the Giro for asking for such a guarantee, and shame on the UCI for undercutting the anti-doping movement, even if it only discussed the possibility and didn’t actually give Froome a free pass.

But nothing undercuts the anti-doping movement so thoroughly as yesterday’s decision. The UCI demonstrated its inability to adjudicate a doping claim against a star rider. It ran out of time and it simply gave up.

Time is a hugely important concept in all of this. For example, the time to argue about whether a drug is performance-enhancing in any concentration, or what that concentration is, or how much natural variance can occur within a population of athletes, is before that drug becomes part of the testing protocol. Once it does, then as an athlete you are bound by that limit and you are in violation of the rules even if you exceed that limit accidentally.

And how about the time an athlete should be allowed to respond to a doping claim? Wasn’t 9 months more than enough? There’s no reason to think the Froome fiasco would be over if not for the ASO’s power play on Sunday. Froome and Team SKY showed themselves to be more than content to let things drag on indefinitely, despite weak protests by Froome that nobody wanted a quick resolution more than he did. What incentive did they have to bring things to a conclusion, given that they were allowed to keep racing and to retain the results of those races?

Well, you did it, Chris. You won. But you’re mistaken if you think that what you did was good for cycling or that you convinced anyone who wasn’t already blindly following you. You exposed the impotence of the UCI and set back the anti-doping cause by at least a decade. We’re one step closer—a big step closer—to tossing out the entire charade. When road racing becomes an anything-goes exhibition with all the athletic credibility of professional wrestling, what will you think of your legacy?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Halftime 2018

You know, it didn’t feel like a great June. I had 11 “off” days, mostly because of rain, and it seemed like I couldn’t find any rhythm in my training. But I still banged out 650 miles, which compares favorably to my historical average. And I finished the first 6 months of 2018 with a total of 2,228 miles. That puts me 95 miles ahead of last year’s pace and keeps me in the running for a 5,000-mile season.

I rode 76 times in the first half of the year, my lowest total since 2014. In some ways, I’m still making up for a lousy April. My per-ride average is nearly 30 miles, though, so no complaints there.

At 196 pounds, I’m 2 pounds heavier than I was on July 1, 2017 … not ideal, but not the end of the world. If I can get below 190 by September 1, then I should be OK for the cyclocross season.

When I set a new PR for mileage in May, I said that June would be a good time to introduce more structure into my training. Largely due to the hit-or-miss weather, that structure never materialized. There’s no choice now: I will beat my ass into shape this month.