Thursday, October 29, 2020

Further Evidence Of My Insanity

I expect too much of West Bend and Washington County, I really do. Wherever there are woods, I see a mountain bike trail. Wherever there’s a park, I see a cyclocross course. And now, despite my best efforts to ignore it, I see a velodrome. It’s already there; we could have it up and running in no time.

Sitting on 1⅓ acres in the northeast corner of Sandy Knoll County Park is an old ice skating rink that hasn’t been used in decades. In the absence of operating funds from the county budget, Washington County Parks is very motivated to find new ways to generate user fees from its properties. Simply by setting its lawnmower blades a little lower, the county could turn this neglected nook into a very serviceable 250-meter velodrome. A grass surface? Yes, and why not? It would hardly be unique. If you want a wooden track you’ll have to go indoors, and an outdoor-friendly asphalt surface would be expensive to construct and to maintain. Grass is also a more forgiving place to land in a crash, of which there are no shortages in track racing. Perhaps the biggest drawback at Sandy Knoll is the absence of banked corners: we’re talking about flat turns. With a lot of landscaping you could sort that out, but you would forever be maintaining those berms. I imagine Sandy Knoll as a practice-only track, not as a venue for sanctioned races. The limitations are too great to overcome in any realistic scenario, and even in the most idealistic scenario I don’t think there’s much demand. But there is parking nearby, and nice bathrooms …

Is this something for the fat bike crowd, maybe? Wait for snow, pack it down, set out some traffic cones, let ’er rip? Sprints and pursuits (both individual and team) could work well for fat bikes on packed snow. I can imagine that. I wouldn’t do it, but I would show up with extra beer! Anybody want to run with this idea?

Monday, October 26, 2020

Patience Is A Virtue Or Some BS

Today is the anniversary of my last bike race: October 26, 2019. Perhaps I should say most recent instead of last; I am not ready to be an ex-racer. But who knows when I will be allowed to race again? The coronavirus isn’t remotely close to containment, much less resolution. If I want to compete against anyone but myself in 2021, then I may have to dust off the credit card and join the Zwift revolution. It’s more likely, though, that I will content myself with individual goals like these:

  • Complete a 300-mile week. (Current record: 283 miles)
  • Extend my longest ride. (Current record: 114 miles)
  • Complete 100 career metric centuries. (Current total: 92)
  • Complete a solo century. (I’ve never done one.)
  • Complete centuries on consecutive days. (I’ve never gone back-to-back.)

Those would be worthy accomplishments in 2021. Right now I’m still trying to polish off 2020, but my quest for 5,000 miles has stalled. I am assuming that the next 10 weeks cannot possibly be as bad as last week. I need only 66 rotten miles—just 2 or 3 more rides—but I don’t know when I will get them. I do know that it won’t be 30-something degrees when I next hop into the saddle. What the hell? Unimpressive as it is, our weather history says we still should be hitting the mid-50s at this time of year. My furnace has been running for weeks. We had snow yesterday and early this morning … only a trace, perhaps, but it’s hateful and insulting in any amount. Just give me a couple of “average” days between now and next Monday and let me be done.

At least there was good professional bike racing at the end of last week. I said on Wednesday that the Giro d’Italia appeared to be a two-man race between Joao Almeida and Wilco Kelderman, but things turned out very differently. On Thursday’s Stage 18, Almeida lost almost 5 minutes and Kelderman lost more than 2 minutes to Jai Hindley and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who vaulted into 2nd and 3rd, respectively, as Kelderman backed into the top spot. Kelderman faltered again on Saturday, allowing Hindley to take the maglia rosa. Hindley and Geoghegan Hart started Sunday’s final stage—a flat, 15.7-kilometer individual time trial—on equal time, so it was winner-take-all. How’s that for drama? I had failed in all of my previous attempts to find live video of the Giro, but on Sunday I coaxed a pirated feed into working just well enough to watch Geoghegan Hart prevail. Good stuff. And the Vuelta a España was plenty entertaining too. Unfortunately, today’s a rest day for the Spanish race. I could use the distraction.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Chasing The Consolation Prizes

I completed today's route counter-clockwise.

Grand Tours often begin with a short time trial and end with a more-or-less processional stage that serves as a lap of honor for the overall champion. And as these stages typically occur on weekends they draw the largest numbers of TV viewers and in-person spectators … who must be bored and/or confused. There’s nothing especially interesting about a short time trial; such stages exist only to put someone in the race leader’s jersey so that there will be a modicum of order on the road the next day. And the last stage of a Grand Tour is almost always a day for the handful of sprinters who managed to drag themselves over the mountains; the overall champions who keep out of the fray are greeted with bewildered applause by onlookers who don’t understand why the guy who won the stage isn’t the guy who won the race.

Things are otherwise in this year’s Vuelta a España, that cruel consolation prize for the men whose seasons haven’t gone as well as they had hoped. The Spanish tour began on Tuesday in Spain rather than in the Netherlands, where it had no business in the first place. (You can’t convince me that a Grand Tour should ever begin in a country with which the host nation doesn’t share a border.) In the pre-coronavirus plans, the Vuelta was supposed to spend its first three days in the Netherlands. Now shortened to 18 stages, the Vuelta began yesterday with a full-on battle for the general classification. And that battle continued today. We already have a legitimate leader in Primož Roglič and we already have big time gaps between contenders and pretenders. We’ve seen plenty of Grand Tours in which a GC favorite was happy to lose the jersey of race leadership after taking it early. After all, the leader and his team have responsibilities that the other riders don’t have, and those responsibilities are a drain on their energies. Strategically, it’s usually best to take the jersey as late as possible. But if he’s smart, Roglič will defend this one with everything he has. Europe is starting to quarantine again as the coronavirus regathers momentum, and there’s no guarantee that an already shortened Vuelta won’t be shortened further. Whatever may occur, I’ll be watching: each stage will be on NBC Sports Gold.

I have not been watching the Giro d’Italia, now in its final week. I haven’t found streaming coverage that isn’t locked down. I’ve tried all the usual tricks including a VPN tunnel to circumvent geographical restrictions, but no luck. Honestly, though, it’s not a compelling field this year. Looks like a two-man race now between Joao Almeida and Wilco Kelderman, and I can’t get worked up for that.

I’m having a hard enough time getting worked up for my own rides. Bad weather is the main reason for that, and now seasonal chores are demanding a chunk of my time. Tomorrow is the final curbside brush collection day of the year in West Bend, so I’ve been trimming trees and shrubs. There’s grass to cut and soon enough there will be leaves to rake. Too soon there will be snow to shovel, and next week is our last week this year on Daylight Saving Time. It’s getting harder to find time for everything. I came into this week 100 miles short of my 5,000-mile goal for the 2020 season, itself a consolation prize of sorts. Today I collected 34 of those miles. I’ll get shut out tomorrow by an all-day rain and then try to come back on Friday and Saturday to finish things off. Next week’s forecast offers only more misery, so there’s every reason to wrap things up as soon as possible.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Wicked Wind Whispers And Moans

There’s no getting away from high winds right now. Seriously: every single day. But the leaves are pretty even if there’s no sunshine backing them up. I’m doing most of my rides in town these days, cutting through the parks to hide among the trees. Today’s ride took me through Forest View, Quaas Creek, Riverside, and finally Regner, where I snapped the picture above. If you’re into the fall foliage thing, then get out there tomorrow and/or Friday. Washington County is about to become much colder and much wetter.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Simple, Measurable, Repeatable

As I predicted yesterday, I did not get on the bike today. But after doing all of my household chores and waiting out the rain, this afternoon I took a second crack at the 5-kilometer rucking course I plotted in my neighborhood back on October 4. This is going to be my bread-and-butter workout when the cycling season is done, and it will be fun to see the statistics accumulate. Looks like 50 minutes is going to be a good benchmark time. Don’t worry too much about calories, though. Garmin is calculating those numbers against my current bodyweight. It doesn’t realize I’m carrying a 25-pound rucksack. Because I’m moving more weight, I’m burning more calories. The difference is probably 10-15 percent—a big margin of error—but I don’t care. My goal for this workout is to do it frequently at an athletic pace. Good things will follow naturally from that simple approach.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Bouncing Back From Last Week’s Performance

Today's ride with "El Contador" was executed counter-clockwise.

This week was a return to form: 214 miles and 13 hours in the saddle. Throw in a 2-hour Ice Age Trail hike on Monday, the “rest” day, and I was very active! I rode on each of the last 6 days but my streak may come to an end tomorrow due to rain. That’s fine; I have several household chores to complete before my new work week begins on Monday night. I need 227 more miles to reach my goal of 5,000 this season, but I don’t expect much from the week to come. The weather forecast isn’t lining up for me. I’ll probably spend more time on lawn & garden tasks and on cross-training than I spend on the bike.

I watched a lot of racing this weekend, starting with the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships on Saturday. That was cross-country; downhill was today but I didn’t watch too much of it. Downhill doesn’t appeal to me very much, and the slow, muddy conditions today made the race even less exciting. This morning began with the Paris-Tours road race and ended with Superprestige cyclocross. If you were lucky you also could find coverage of Gent-Wevelgem and the 9th stage of the Giro d’Italia, but I couldn’t watch everything, so I took a pass on those. I think I can look forward to Scheldeprijs and the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the week to come, but unfortunately COVID-19 cases are rising again in Europe. Paris-Roubaix already has been cancelled for October 25.

By the way, there were no North Americans today in either the men’s or women’s elite Superprestige races at Gieten, Netherlands. I don’t know whether we should expect that to change as the season progresses. Americans and Canadians have always been on the back foot in European cyclocross. This year could leave us ever farther behind.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Rucking While The Weather’s Sucking

I followed up a record week on the bike with my poorest numbers since April, covering only 40 miles in 2.5 hours over the last 7 days. We were 10-15 degrees below normal all week, and wet most of that time. Friday night bottomed out at 33° and I felt pretty smart for already having turned off my outdoor spigots until next spring. The week to come should be better … not great, but at least average for this time of year. Looks like Tuesday will be our first 60° day since September 27.

Yeah, this week was a really unwelcome break in my cycling season, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did ruck marches Thursday, Saturday, and today with my new GPS-enabled watch. Thursday’s and Saturday’s routes weren’t quite right, but today I nailed a 5-kilometer route that I can do repeatedly with a target pace to ensure I’m working hard enough. There will be hikes and ruck marches farther afield, and I will look forward to those adventures for their novelty. But for me there has to be a standard route that begins just outside my door and simply gets the job done. I want to keep the execution of the everyday workout easy and thereby eliminate any excuses not to do it. That strategy already works for me as a cyclist. I don’t have to take the bike somewhere to do a ride; I just roll out of my driveway.

This week’s ruck marches—my first since early May—were not especially demanding. Nevertheless, I felt them. They hit my legs and feet in a way that was very different from cycling, and that’s exactly what I wanted. I had a similar revelation a decade ago when I got into stair climbing. The mild soreness that followed my initial efforts was proof that cycling leaves some leg muscles unchallenged. To be a more complete athlete, I need to find these weak spots and make them strong. And I’m starting to think I should be cross-training throughout the year, not just during the cold weather months. In summer I’m so desirous of big mileage totals on the bike that I neglect other training opportunities. Sure, I still do upper body strength training all year long, but I typically don’t do any walking/hiking/rucking. During the cycling season, dedicating just one day a week to activities like those might make me both fresher and stronger. Being on the bike so much can feel like a job. I don’t take as much rest as I should, and cross-training could give me a weekly break without guilt.