Sunday, August 25, 2019

Accumulating Kilometers While I Can

Go counter-clockwise to trace the route I took today.

With my 5th metric century of 2019, today I put the finishing touches on another 200-mile week. Big blocks of training like this are about to become really tough, as cyclocross season will begin to consume my weekends. The season will start on September 7 in Manitowoc.

That should mean next weekend—Labor Day Weekend—is free for some long rides, right? Not for me. I’m picking up a 12-hour overtime shift at work on Saturday night. I’ll probably do fairly short rides both Saturday and Sunday, and Labor Day itself is just a Monday without mail: I have to work my normal hours. Tuesday’s cyclocross practice will be the highlight of my training in the week to come, and I’ll stay very entertained off the bike by watching the Vuelta a EspaƱa and the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships. It’s going to be a big week, of a sort, but don’t expect another big mileage total.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

XM (No Cycling At All)

With the purchase of my new vehicle I received a trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio, a service that I had explored only briefly in rental cars. During the last couple of weeks I have gotten more familiar with it, learning, for example, that most SiriusXM offerings are available online and not in my car. It’s a staggering amount of programming, and I probably seem like an ideal candidate for a paid subscription: I have very focused entertainment tastes—the station that plays nothing but Beatles songs is a perfect fit—and I’m a transplant from a different part of the country where my sports team loyalties still lie. But I’m no longer someone who will spend 3 hours listening to a baseball or football game. Those days ended when I was a teenager, desperately trying to pull in distant AM stations on a cheap home stereo. And I’m not a traditional sports talk guy to whom something like ESPN can appeal. Start yakkin’ about which college basketball players are going to be drafted in which order, or which NBA star is holding out for a new contract, or which NFL teams are going to cover the spread, and I switch off. Cycling is the only sport for which I want all the tiny details, and I can’t get them.

No, not even SiriusXM, with hundreds of narrowly-defined stations serving hyper-specific interests, can satisfy me. Cycling simply isn’t on the menu. Why should that be true? Cycling has compelling competition, personalities, and controversies like any other sport. Cycling has websites and publications exclusively dedicated to it. Cycling has endless gear choices and enough technical considerations to rival motorsports. Cycling also moves at a snail’s pace compared to something like ice hockey, making it easy to describe as a commentator and to consume as a listener. But forget about live race coverage; what I’m missing is cycling talk that I can jump into for 30 minutes at a time when I’m driving.

There’s an answer: podcasts. Cycling has plenty of them and, as far as I can tell, not one of them earns a dime. That’s not necessarily a reflection on their quality though, and a collection of the best would make for a very respectable SiriusXM channel that people would follow. The podcasters are already producing the content; simply give them a better way to distribute it to a mass audience. Raise those shows from the ranks of mere vanity projects by presenting them as a curated programming lineup and give them a share of the advertising revenue. A single podcast by itself probably isn’t big enough to attract the notice of major sponsors, but wouldn’t the SiriusXM Cycling Channel look good to Trek and Specialized and Giant and Cannondale and REI and Gatorade, etc.? I just know there’s an audience for this.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Teen Titan’s Transportation

My youngest child is heading off to college, and on the eminently bikeable campus of UW-Oshkosh this old Diamondback Outlook should do just fine. It was a $25 Craigslist find about 15 years ago and it has served the family well.

Thursday, August 15, 2019


Today I surpassed 70,000 lifetime miles since I began this cycling lifestyle back in 2004. And that means I also have surpassed my mileage goal for this season: a modest 3,087. I will keep riding, of course, and next season’s goal will be whatever I still need to reach 75,000 lifetime miles. I’m trying to hit 100,000 on my 60th birthday in 2025. That will be an eye-popping number to impress my non-cycling friends … and maybe even some of those who do ride.

Another goal has come into view: 100 lifetime metric centuries. Despite all the miles, I don’t do many long rides. But I ride frequently—an average of 192 times per year for the last 5 years—so the miles add up! Reaching 100 lifetime metric centuries is a cool goal and I’m only 14 away. A couple more this year, then a big push next year and I’m there.

I have done only 15 standard 100-mile centuries, and I don’t really want to set a target for more. I feel confident that there will be more, but I don’t want to commit myself to a number. One of these days I should do a solo century—all of mine have been in the company of other riders—and I might take a shot at centuries on back-to-back days. I intended to do that on the MS 150 Best Dam Bike Tour in both 2006 and 2007, only to have each Sunday shortened by the ride organizers due to bad weather after successful rides on both Saturdays.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

2019 Little Apple 100

My number plate, equipped, on the other side, with a purely decorative timing chip.

Strange but true: prior to Sunday, I had never done a USA Cycling-sanctioned road race. I have many USA Cycling-sanctioned cyclocross and mountain bike races to my credit, including two in which I didn’t actually compete! But my only road races were Wisport events and three consecutive participations in Race The Lake, 2016-2018.

And I guess it’s fitting that my first USA Cycling-sanctioned road race should be a gravel road race. I’m the Cheesehead Roubaix guy, after all, and I’ve done other gravel events here and there. On Sunday morning I was the only Wisconsin racer to venture south of the Cheddar Curtain to Manhattan IL for the second running of the Little Apple 100: “Little Apple” because the other Manhattan is the Big Apple, and “100” because the race was 100 kilometers long. It was almost all gravel, too, and the promoters used apples to rate the difficulty of each sector in the same way Cheesehead Roubaix—as an homage to Paris-Roubaix—uses stars to rate its unpaved sectors. The 1-apple sector was easy enough, but I didn’t perceive big differences between 2-, 3-, and 4-apple sectors. Everything was eminently rideable, and the biggest technical challenges were the turns from one gravel road onto another. Nothing on the race course would have merited more than 3 stars on Cheesehead Roubaix. My slick 700x32 Continental Gatorskins were going to handle the Little Apple without much trouble.

I arrived early to ensure I wouldn’t miss a chance to register. Pre-registration was robust but I opted out because of an uncertain weather forecast … and because there was no financial penalty for waiting. Sure enough, it did rain in Chicagoland on Sunday morning, but that turned out to be a blessing. The rain stopped just minutes before the race began, and it settled all of the dust that the race would have kicked up on unpaved roads. As we lined up I felt well-rested and optimistic.

The race would be run in two laps of a 50-kilometer course. Lap 1 started sedately with a neutral rollout. The end of the neutralized section meant an increase in speed, but it wasn’t full gas. I was moving comfortably with the leaders for the first 23k or so. I then got into trouble after a change of direction put the group into a crosswind. I was too far back—plain and simple—and when the big guns fired at the front I got gapped and knew I couldn’t close it by myself. There were plenty of racers behind me at that point, but it would be a while before any of them would arrive to help me.

Getting dropped from the lead pack may have been the best thing that happened to me all day. I wasn’t going to hang with Cat 1 guys for 100k; it was only a matter of time before I popped. And I felt really lucky about 2k later when a big crash near the front of the race took out 5-6 top contenders. This video shows the moment everything went wrong for them.

I spent much of the second half of Lap 1 on my own, gradually losing sight of the leaders and yet staying beyond the reach of my pursuers. I was in No Man’s Land, and that couldn’t last forever. I grabbed my water bottle hand-up like a pro when I went through the mid-ride aid station, gulped down a bunch of Clif Bloks, and waited for the cavalry to arrive early on Lap 2.

Lap 2 would have been demoralizing indeed if I had been unable to raise my effort to the level of the new group in which I found myself. But it soon became apparent that I didn’t need to worry. Half of the group was content to follow wheels and not work on the front. Headwinds and crosswinds were definitely a factor on Sunday, and it became a source of irritation to me that there was so little cooperation. I tried on a couple of occasions to encourage the group to work together, but it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want to attack the whole group, potentially finding myself alone again with a long way to go, so instead I took a monster pull and split the field. That established me as the leader of a good group of five, and we never saw the hangers-on again. We worked well to the finish, picking off a few lone riders who had been dropped by the fast guys.

Sean Metz (xXx Racing), a 36-year-old Cat 1, out-sprinted Sergey Klibanov (Wolfpack Bike Racing), a 38-year-old Cat 3, for the victory. Their time of 2:55:19 was easily better than my time of 3:19:27. How many places separated us is something I may never know. The chip timing system failed and officials attempted to record the results manually, but there are obvious errors. For now, I’m credited with 45th place in a field of 112. That’s close enough to the truth and not a bad effort for a 54-year-old Cat 5.

Now it’s time to turn my attention to cyclocross, but I’m not ruling out another gravel race before the end of the year. There’s one in downstate Illinois on November 2, not far from where I used to live. If it’s cold up here and warm down there, then I might skip the Estabrook Park CX race and do the gravel grinder instead. We’ll see.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Hitching A Ride

New car. New bike rack. This should work.

Ah, but where to go first? Rain has crept into Sunday’s forecast for the Little Apple 100 gravel road race in Manhattan IL, and as that possibility increases my interest decreases. We’re still a few days out; it’s not time to abandon those plans.

The WCA announced today that it has abandoned its plans to open the 2019 cyclocross season in Kenosha on August 24. So, we’re now looking at Flyover Silver Creek CX in Manitowoc on September 7. I would have liked one more warm weather race, so I’m not glad to see the cancellation. On the other hand, it’s more time to prepare. It may prove true that my first trip with the new bike rack is only as far as Royal Oaks Park, where cyclocross practice will begin next Tuesday.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Wheeling & Dealing

Today's route, done counter-clockwise.

This was a stressful week but I have come out of it in a stronger position. I mentioned on Monday that I needed to find a new vehicle to replace the old minivan that was crumbling beneath me. Yesterday I found that new vehicle. The transaction is already done, the new car is resting in my garage, and the old minivan is now the dealership’s problem. I have gone back to a 4-door sedan after nearly 6 years. When I acquired the minivan in October 2013, I was working from home. Its lousy fuel economy didn’t matter because I didn’t drive very much. But for the last 4 years I have been commuting more than 300 miles per week. The new car will cut my fuel consumption by about 50 percent, and that’s a big deal. Seriously: that’s more than $1,000 a year at current prices.

Of course, the new car won’t be as capable as a mobile bike race headquarters, It did, however, come with a trailer hitch, so I’m pairing that with a new bike rack. Loading and unloading won’t be as convenient as simply throwing everything into the back of the van, but it will be more than acceptable to me and a far better solution, I think, than putting bikes on top of the car.

The Little Apple 100 gravel road race in Manhattan IL is coming up next Sunday. That may be the first test of the new bike rack, which I had to order and whose timely delivery is not guaranteed. Today I worked on delivering myself to the race in good enough form to make an impression. I did a solo metric century—just my third ride at that distance this season—and experienced a pretty big performance drop at mile 54. It wasn’t a proper bonk, but I probably should have had some calories during the ride. This week I'll formulate a nutrition and hydration strategy for next Sunday. I’ll also make a contingency plan for bike transportation if the new rack doesn’t arrive in time. I do still have the trunk rack I used back in my Corolla/Taurus days, and there’s still a chance that I can convince somebody else to drive.

Today’s effort brought my totals for the week to 11.5 hours and 202 miles. In spite of car shopping and other distractions, it was the big week I wanted. My training volume will go way down in the week ahead, as I don’t want to arrive at next Sunday’s race with no snap in my legs. I couple of full-stop rest days on Tuesday and Wednesday should help me to unload some accumulated fatigue.