31 January 2006

It had to happen sometime ...

As anyone who knows me knows, I'm a bit of a weather geek. This is a case where a little knowledge goes a long way toward being obnoxious -- I had one meteorology class in college that made me qualified to do the weather on the college TV station (once), but hardly goes anywhere when trying to keep up with Weather God Tom Skilling of WGN.

But I have had fun with this extremely mild January, especially since my annual break from riding happened to hit in December, when it was really cold and nasty! But starting this week, I'm sort of back "on the program," no longer just doing random rides whenever the wind is right. With an off-season 'cross race in 3 weeks, and a couple of early-season objectives seeming just around the corner, I'm slowly but surely starting the real build up for 2006. So it was with great trepidation that I read this in today's Tribune:

Huge pattern change to unleash arctic air, slash February temperatures
Published January 31, 2006

Wintry weather's to return in stages once February arrives--the first, a moderate-temperature downturn capable of igniting lake snow or even a more organized winter storm system in the U.S. this weekend; the second, a potentially impressive cold outbreak, truly arctic in character, the latter half of next week. The temperature downturn is to follow the final mild surge of the current 39-day warm cycle expected to produce mid 40s Wednesday and Thursday. A mammoth pattern shift is behind the anticipated return to wintry weather and is to occur on a northern hemispheric basis. Areas which have shivered in record cold over recent weeks (i.e. northwest Canada and Alaska) are to warm dramatically, while regions like the Lower 48, enveloped in near record warmth, are in for a temperature shock most notably later next week. As with all major weather shifts, details--i.e. is the transition likely to be snowy--will have to be monitored.

But there is some good news:
ONLY 318 DAYS TO NATZ!!

29 January 2006

Catastrophic?

So on Friday I pondered the question as I shaved my legs ... what if Nys didn't win? Who would have thought?!

Here are my predictions:


Men's podium: Nys, Vervecken, Wellens. Nys takes off with one of the other two, with the second blocking, and complete yet another Belgian 1-2-3. Could be Vervecken *or* Wellens in either order after Nys. We'll see! Page in 23rd or 24th, with the next closest U.S. rider in 37th or 38th. Women's podium: I know the names, but not all the strengths, but here it is: Melchers, Vos, Kupfernagel, with Bessette just missing in 4th. Could be a toss-up between those three though. Much closer race than the men! Best U.S. riders in 15th-20th, probably Ann Knapp and Barbella, maybe Vardaros.

How about them apples? Let's see how I did ...

  • Men: Big group stays together. Nys, Vervecken and Wellens take turns trying to break things up. Wellens even dangles 50m off the front for 2 laps. BUT, on the last lap, Nys lost his front wheel on the descent, hit a tree (the same one as Bjorn?), and DNFs. Holy (Dutch) cow! Vervecken reclaims his lost title (2001), with Wellens in 2nd. And Page put up a huge ride, coming in 10th! According to cyclingnews.com "Standing in the crowd of fans watching the giant television screen in the middle of the course, Page got more screen time than many of the other members of he leading group (barring the Belgians, of course)." Other U.S. riders: Wicks in 33rd, Powers 35th, Tonkin 48th, Baker 49th.
  • Women: Dominated by a 3-rider break. But then the pre-race favorite (whom I did not have in my picks!) flatted, the remaining two pushed the pace hard and eventually set up the home win. Vos took the V, with Kupfernagel second. Van Den Brand (the favorite) took 3rd, with Melchers (my pick) in 4th. Says cyclingnews.com: "Canadian Lyne Bessette is a strong enough rider that with a better starting position, she might have picked up third place when Van Den Brand lost time to her flat, but considering she's been chasing away a flu for a week and started mid-pack start on a course that absolutely favoured good starting positions, her 10 place shows real promise." And Ann Knapp pulled out a fantastic ride to finish 9th, one ahead of Bessette. Other U.S. riders: Mazza and Howe 24th-25th, Vardaros in 33rd, Bruno-Roy in 36th.

So both Page and Knapp surprised! Not a bad way to end the weekend ... and definitely some serious promise shown by all the North Americans this year!

More later, after I'm done cleaning the bike ...

ONLY 320 DAYS TO NATZ!!

28 January 2006

So far, so ...

Just checking results of today's U-23 and Junior contests. Way to go Bjorn! Awesome ride to come in 7th! According to VeloNews, he was sitting in 5th-6th most of the race, until he hit a tree on a descent on the last lap.

I'll post more after the Elite and Women's race. But I have to say, I hope my predictions don't continue -- it would be great to have a U.S. rider in the hunt!

My predictions for Juniors and U-23 from Tuesday (emphasis added):

Bjorn will have an awesome ride (since I bought so many things to support him from Madcross.org!) but will come up short ... I'm guessing he'll be our best Junior in 7th or 8th. In the Espoirs, Troy will again suffer serious problems and be 12th-15th.


Results from Saturday's racing:
VeloNews.com: "Bjorn Selander was the top U.S. finisher in seventh place. "
VeloNews.com: "American U-23 champion Troy Wells went down in a crash at the start of the race, cutting open his forehead and nose and eventually finishing a lap down."
... Definitely not making light of what happened to Wells ... check out his brother's blog for a detailed description. OUCH! That's some serious suffering ...


ONLY 321 DAYS TO NATZ!!

27 January 2006

Go Skilling!

From Friday's Chicago Tribune:

Fewer than 25% of Januarys have had three 50s
Published January 27, 2006

Temperatures soared past 60(degrees) across Iowa and Missouri less than 340 miles west of Chicago Thursday. And 60s dominated Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota--readings moreA than 30(degrees) above normal at some locations there. It's the latest surge of mild air to render historic averages all but obsolete in January 2006. Powerful 30+ m.p.h. gusts within the same air mass bring Chicago its third day of 50s this month.Only 31 of the 135 Januarys on record here--fewer than 25%--have recorded three or more 50s. Interestingly, the January which produced the greatest number of 50s--13 of them--occurred 126 years ago in 1880.The city's unbroken string of daily temperature surpluses reaches 36 Friday. A modest downturn is projected next week though more substantial cooling, including possible arctic air, is still indicated the following week.

BUT ...

Infamous 1967 Blizzard teaches not to dismiss snow in the wake of warmth
Published January 27, 2006

Chicago was at a standstill 39 years ago and in the final stage of a 29 hour blizzard which crippled the metro area, burying it beneath 23 inches of snow whipped into 4-6 foot drifts by howling 53 m.p.h. wind gusts. Snow was falling so heavily as Jan. 27 (also a Friday) dawned, visibilities were under a quarter mile. Snow, which began at 5 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 26 ceased just after 10 a.m. Friday the 27th. It was all too clear to anyone who lived through it; Chicago had just been dealt its worst snowstorm on record. What was intriguing about that system--and is something to keep in mind in the midst of our current mild spell--was that only two days before, area residents had basked in a pair of 60(degrees)+ highs. The warmth was part of a mild spell which had produced double-digit daily temperature surpluses for a week and culminated in the area's only January tornado watch. Just a day before the snows hit, a high of 51(degrees) had occurred at Midway Airport. The infamous blizzard is only one of a series of Chicago and Midwest snowstorms to hit after spells of unusual warmth.

What if?

Friday is leg-shaving day, and as I was scraping the wool this morning, a thought occured to me: What if Sven Nys doesn't win on Sunday? Will the world stop rotating on its axis?

Anyway, since Friday is also vacation-at-your-desk day, I thought I'd offer up a couple of links:
  • Make sure you spell Nys' name the way he intends -- if you use the other spelling, you're in for a weird surprise! It's safe for office computers, even if it is out there ... check it out: http://www.svennijs.com/
  • Cyclingnews.com still has the Tour Down Under results as their top link -- they haven't even created a subsite yet for Worlds. How crappy is that?
  • They do, however, have full results for the Worlds Masters Championship in Mol last weekend. If you click back through on the links for the past couple of years, you see a disturbing pattern that pretty much the same people are on top of their age categories for, like, forever. And by the way, the USA scored a silver (women's) and bronze (men's)!
  • So if you need your fix of Worlds, check out the official site: http://www.wkveldrijden2006.nl/html/EN/default.asp The "routemap" on the homepage is how you get there -- to see the map of the course, check out: http://www.wkveldrijden2006.nl/html/EN/parcours.asp I didn't ask them if their colors mean the same as mine ... but check out the Windmill of Death on the upper right side! Wicked!
  • Make sure to check out Cyclocrossworld.com and CylocrossELEMENTS too!

I'm not a big one for predictions, but I did make some picks in the comments section of this site a few days ago. Unless something happens, I don't see anyone getting close to Nys ... unless you spell his name "Nijs" and everything goes pear-shaped? What will be interesting will be the interplay between the Belgians, as some of them are trade teammates ...

Unfortunately, the U.S. has had a super-bad string of luck lately. Maybe they're due, and I hope they are, but something makes me think they're not. I'd love to see someone pull out an awesome ride, but this is Worlds, in the Netherlands, not far from Belgium ...


In other news, courtesy of the Chicago Athlete e-newsletter: One of the top distance runners in U.S. history, Bob Kennedy, announced his retirement from racing. Kennedy won 20 Big Ten titles as a collegian at IndianaUniversity . . . he won the 5,000 meters title in the U.S. Track & Field Championships in 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2001 . . . In 1996, he became the first nonAfrican to run the 5,000 meters in less than 13 minutes.

Even more important, Kennedy completly disproved the notion that you can't be fast if you have facial hair! I have to admit, it was fun the one time someone thought I was him at a local running race a while back ...

ONLY 322 DAYS TO NATZ!!

26 January 2006

It's all going south!

Wow. I am so glad I don't race for Delta, based in Hoosier-land. Not that driving to St. Louis will be *that* much better. So glad 'cross is north, and close to home, but this will muck up all the routes too and from the city all summer, I'm sure. This from Monday's Chicago Tribune (emphasis mine):

Jon Hilkevitch
Cars, trucks to share Ryan
Construction to push all traffic to local lanes
Published January 23, 2006

The mixture of cars and trucks traveling at high speeds is never a marriage made in heaven, but on the Dan Ryan Expressway, Chicago's busiest highway, drivers should get ready for a shotgun wedding.

Starting in March and continuing for most of the next two years, passenger cars and semitrailer trucks will share the road while the express and local lanes of the Ryan (Interstate Highway 90/94) are rebuilt between 31st Street and the Ryan interchange with Interstate Highway 57.

Passenger-car drivers who use the Ryan's express lanes, where normally truck traffic is prohibited, are in for a big change this year. Car and truck traffic, totaling 300,000 vehicles daily, will be shifted over to the local lanes.

Cars and trucks sharing the road in both directions will extend into 2007, when trucks will be allowed onto the express lanes while the local lanes are rebuilt.It means that the 80,000-pound big rigs will be pounding away at the new pavement on the express lanes until truck traffic returns to the local lanes.

The biggest headache, however, is that the number of lanes on the Ryan will be reduced by 50 percent during mainline work on the $600 million project. Chicago-area drivers have never before experienced such a deep cut in lane capacity during a major highway project.

Signs warning of "drastic Dan Ryan lane reductions" are being posted on all Chicago-area expressways, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Some of the signs urge drivers to avoid the Ryan by taking alternate routes, including Stony Island, Lake Shore Drive and Ashland Avenue; and to use the CTA Red Line and bus routes as well as the Metra Electric Line and the Metra Rock Island District service.

The Ryan work will occur at the same time as other highway makeovers in the Southland Corridor: the reconstruction of the Kingery Expressway (Interstate Highway 80/94), the Borman Expressway (I-80/94) in Indiana, the southern portion of the Tri-State Tollway (Interstate Highway 294) and 11 bridges on the Chicago Skyway.

The northbound (inbound) Ryan from 13th to 31st Streets will be rebuilt this year, according to IDOT. Starting about March 15, all traffic will be directed to the southbound (outbound) side, but there will be only three lanes open in each direction, instead of six lanes.

The express lanes, which begin at 31st Street, will be shut down through 71st Street, requiring all traffic to use the local lanes, IDOT said.

The goal is to open at least one express lane by August and the rest by the end of 2006, IDOT spokesman Mike Claffey saidThen in March 2007, another flip-flop takes place when the southbound Ryan will be overhauled. All traffic, including trucks, will use the express lanes of the northbound expressway between 13th and 31st Streets. The work is scheduled for completion by late 2007.

IDOT expects that only about 15 percent of truck traffic will bypass Ryan construction and take alternate routes.

ONLY 323 DAYS TO NATZ!!

25 January 2006

My favorite honky returns!

One of the indelible memories of my early childhood was a Christmastime visit to the Field Museum in Chicago. But this wasn't just any visit: this was to see King Tut.

I'll never forget filing past the sarcophagus, and seeing a real-live mummy for the first time. It was 1979, we had just moved to Chicago, it was freezing cold outside, and we were there as a family, along with my grandparents -- my grandfather died almost exactly 3 years later, and each of those last visits was precious.

I remember waking up screaming one night soon after seeing the exhibit, as a nightmare of death and preservation and burial seized upon my mind. (Did you know the embalmers pulled the brains out by the nostril? How's that for pleasant dreams?) But it wasn't enough to shake my fascination.

From the glittering gold of the Death Mask to the intricate designs of the hieroglyphs, I was entranced with everything Tut. Ancient Egypt held me in its thrall, and it's an attraction I have never lost -- I used to spend hours writing hieroglyphics and trying to decipher their meanings from pictures in books. This was years before the Internet, and information wasn't as easy to come by -- many trips to our woefully under-funded library yielded only a paltry amount of information; not nearly enough to satisfy a young boy's curiosity.

The Ankh has become my "symbol," and choosing "life" was my battle cry when I quit smoking 8 years ago. In fact, don't be surprised to see this particular glyph show up again sometime soon …

So when I heard that the Boy King is returning, I couldn't wait to go again, and re-live the experience of my childhood. Tickets finally went on sale yesterday to the general public, and Kim and I are Nos. 16 and 17 for the 2 p.m. entrance on Saturday, July 8. Looks like we won't have to wait in line doing the monkey!

I've had to make do with Internet searches and books and magazines … not to mention old SNL clips! … for the past 27 years. But now we'll get to see everything in person, including a bunch of artifacts that have never traveled outside of Egypt!

ONLY 324 DAYS TO NATZ!!

24 January 2006

Amen, brother!

If you haven't yet seen Erik Tonkin's Belgium report on Cyclocrossworld.com, go there now. If you don't have the time or inclination, at least click through to Part II, and read his last paragraph, some of which includes this:

I can only speak for myself, but I have long ago abandoned goals based on how I place in races. I’m not the best, so I can rarely make a play at winning a big race. I mean, I’ve never even won a UCI race of any stripe back home. Here, of course, winning isn’t even an option. I’m realistic, but I’m also driven to succeed. It’s just that I define success in a relative way: I want to perform better than before, constantly improving until I finally reach—and acknowledge—my plateau as an athlete.
I believe that such a plateau is mostly mental, so I'm not sure that acknowledging it is healthy in a "I will get better" sort of way. But I like where he's coming from otherwise! And, oh yeah, he's racing Worlds next weekend!

Just call me Marcus

"There, you see that? I gave up."

"Wha … no you didn't."

"Shows you how good I am at it. … There are these decisive moments in bike racing. And when the moment came, I gave up."

Every cyclist in North America can recite this quote from American Flyers, delivered by Marcus (Kevin Costner) to his brother David (David Grant) some 20 years ago. In addition to being chock-full of soon-to-be stars (Costner, Alexandra Paul, Rae Dawn Chong, Robert Townsend, Jennifer Grey), this film represents a right of passage for those of us confined to the indoor trainer for hours each winter …

I'm having an American Flyers moment.

I was reading Mike Necessary's blog, and the other week he posted a photo of himself with Mesa teammates Mike Lanyon and Josh Carter. They're down in Tucson right now, putting in 150-mile days and hitting the famed Shootout ride on the weekends … all to prepare for an assault on the Midwest racing calendar this spring and summer. And they raced last weekend, apparently with a V for Carter in his first outing of the year ...

Then I saw that ABD has announced their 2006 Elite squad, and the group laid down some killer times at the first indoor TT last weekend. I mean, crap, Puffer is their sprinter! He's usually my first major scalp at the first outdoor TT in April. If he's putting down a 14:28 in January -- and beating Mumford and Mead -- they are going to be flying this year. Hell, even 'Druber is riding again in California with Coxworth. (Scroll down for an interesting, albeit colored, recent history of Mack ...)

I can't compete. Uncle.

I hate feeling like this. The feeling that no matter what I do, it won't be enough. That ultimately, even though I know that the road isn't my focus, my heart will tell me I'm disappointed in myself during April and May. More than anything, it makes me want to hang up the Team Mack R-33 and hit the trails for the next 8 months until it's time to race 'cross again.

My favorite road race is in 2-1/2 months. And if you look back at last year's results, it paints a discouraging picture: the winner is a super-strong rider from Madison who is in a league of his own; 2nd and 5th were members of Tilford's team who can ride circles around most of us, and one of them went pro for Jelly Belly this year; 3rd, 4th, 6th and 10th were ABD riders, and only one of them isn't coming back; 8th was a Mesa rider who is now on ABD; 9th was a guy on the team that won the National Crit at Downers Grove. Oh, and Lanyon was in 7th and Necessary took 5th in the Cat. 3 race. And Carter rode injured in the early part of the season as part of the Subway Pro Team. (I was 11th, in the group with 7th-10th.)

That's some serious firepower. And while "anything can happen" this winter, I would venture to guess that each and every one of them will come back stronger in 2006. In the past, Bill kept trying to tell me that they're only strong because they ride through the winter, and that I will catch up by the summer as they fade. All due respect, but that's "bull-Shinto." These same guys who beat me in April were still kicking my ass in June and July, even before the August implosion. And they beat me then, too.

As Andy keeps saying, "It's all about motivation." And I feel like mine, when it comes to road rides, has gone out the window. I'm not afraid of these guys -- I know I'm competitive with them -- but I just don't feel the desire to go head-to-head with them right now. Instead, I'd rather spend my time working on my off-road skills, building up and dialing in the new ride and hitting Palos for the first time, or practicing at Montrose, or screaming through the Lagoons.

Self-defeating? Yup. I recognize that. I know myself well enough to realize that this is a short mental slump, and as the smack gets laid down at Hillsboro I will push hard to rise to the challenge. And do it again at Proctor. And with true objectives that are farther away, I will probably suffer a bit more, and may not have as solid a showing as last year. That's bike racing, and I need to take my lumps if I'm truly going to shine in October.

But in the meantime, part of me right now wants to try hitchhiking across the country eating nuts and generic fig bars from the supermarket, telling myself that I'm "living off the land." Until, of course, I finally break down and go for that Quarter Pounder with cheese … unless they're out, in which case I WILL go for the Big Mac instead. Fate be damned.


ONLY 325 DAYS TO 'CROSS NATZ!!

23 January 2006

Nice n' relaxing

This was one of those weekends when everything went right.

It started with a long snooze/sleep-in session on Saturday morning, followed by a quick run and a bit of time on the trainer after Friday night's snowstorm. I had never seen the 1993 road Worlds before, and anyone who doubted Armstrong on Hautacam should just go back to his last-lap attack to see what happened … the footage is so similar it's freaky. Big thanks to Andy for the DVD loan …

We then headed to the United Center for the Harlem Globetrotters. It's their 80th Anniversary season, and none of the players had gray hair! Just kidding … seriously, it was a lot of fun to be there, and as they were doing the pre-game announcements, it occurred to me just how much this franchise has meant to young kids throughout the world for so long. I mean, can you imagine being a young, African-American child in Harlem in the 1930s, how BIG the Globetrotters must have seemed? The UC kind of dwarfed our 21st Century crowd, but it was still a blast.

Then it was up to Milwaukee for our weekend. It was fun to be up there, taking in the city -- with relatively nice weather and just enough snow on the ground to feel like winter, we enjoyed a completely relaxing time just chilling out, eating and having fun. I even got in a great run along the lakefront and back up along the ridge -- did you know that the homes near the feed zone for the Lakefront Long Course are really nice? I'm usually in too much of an oxygen-debt induced haze to notice all the brick …

Last night was a blast at the WCA Cyclocross Awards Banquet. This is my second WCA banquet that I've attended, and both times I've won a raffle/door prize! For someone who never wins anything, this is a super-big deal, even if Gary won't let me wear the new, bright-red Trek/VW socks …

It was great to see everyone, and I have to say JPE is looking super-thin for it being the end of January. He put on a great show as the MC, and we were all treated to the fantastic season-highlight video from Renee at Madcross. On sale soon, with proceeds going to Bjorn …

How cool is it that Wisconsin produced three National Champions this year? Plus a top-10 ride from Tristan and what surely would have been a great ride from Matt, had he not been sick? Not to mention Kurt's incredible rides in the Elite race and the Liberty Cup! And all the Juniors out in Providence representing … how long until Chicago produces this depth of talent? We're only a few years behind the WCA series, with Brian leading the way and David coming on strong …

ONLY 326 DAYS TO NATZ!!

20 January 2006

On course, of course!


So what is the Montrose course like? It's fun! It's not exactly the singletrack at Palos, or even the Lagoons, but it provides a good, 'cross-specific challenge that changes with the seasons ...

Purple = Start/finish (light blue arrow shows direction)
Yellow = Bike/jogging path. Start is on crushed gravel; note the two-way tunnel top right
Green = Flat and (mostly) fast, pretty well packed but exposed to the wind
Orange = Uphill
Maroon = Straight downhill
Red = Off-camber downhill
Royal blue = Curb hop
Light blue = Barriers (on race day, otherwise imagination at work ...)
Note there is a sand whoop-de-doo in the top-right corner, with an awesome view of the lake from the breakwall. And the "barriers" are on the uphill on Cricket Hill, with the "Spiral of Death" well worn on the downhill (north) face.

I managed to get out for a full 2 hours this morning, in anticipation of the rain/snow storm that is on its way this afternoon. Winds out of the north and west, so the front straight was slow but the false flat after the curb hop was uncharacteristically fast.

That said, it was super-warm yesterday, so the ground was a little soft ... plus, it's been dry lately (with just a little moisture this morning), so the sand was super-loose -- I bogged down my first time through, before I realized it.

I got in some good re-mount practice while "waiting" for Andy ... he hit it hard yesterday, so I really didn't expect him to show at the appointed hour of 5:45. (But I still have to call him out on it!) Then a couple of laps on the gas but in the small ring, still working on my use of the terrain and my cornering. Of course, it helps if you drop your tire pressure before starting! Woops!

One easy lap, and then a few minutes tooling around the bird sanctuary (good sand practice) before one more steady lap and the ride home. I felt pretty good about my handling today, especially with the sand, although my legs were a little bit toastier than I would have liked. Still managed 6:30s-6:40s, although my first lap sucked because of the sand-stall. With all the loose stuff, staying off the brakes became even more important -- they were squealing like stuck pigs every time I needed them.

I hear Renee is doing the snow dance up in Mad-town, so this may be it for Montrose for a while. With the soil so sandy, the course is already disappearing in places ... good for the environment, but tough for the 'cross scene! I'm sure we'll make do once we're riding again ... we always seem to find a way!

ONLY 329 DAYS TO NATZ!!

19 January 2006

Trebon out of Worlds

Looks like it was a death in the family that is causing Trebon to resign his Worlds spot. That absolutely sucks. But family takes precedence in a time like this ... thoughts go out to the Trebon family ...

Bits and bobs from the cycling world

U.S. Worlds team change: It appears Tree Farm is out and Baker in for the U.S. team at Worlds. That sucks for Trebon -- he was flying Stateside, but once back in Europe has dealt with a few blows. Apparently the rumors that it has to do with his blog comments section are not true ... Been digging around, and Madcross is reporting that it's family matters. Hope nothing serious -- best wishes to Ryan ...

Much-deserved praise: How cool is this? I don't want to seem like a hanger-on, but check out this photo from the T-Mobile team launch in Majorca last week. See the young woman in the Espoir (U-23) U.S. National jersey, just two people to the left of potentially the next winner of the Tour de France? That's none other than Chicago native Rebecca Much, formerly of XXX-Athletico, who also took home a silver in the TT at Worlds in 2004. She's a super-strong rider definitely on her way to greatness ... and she doesn't even turn 20 years old until February 25th!

And yes, T-Mobile has "combined" the women's and men's teams as one entity this year. For an inside look, check out Kim Baldwin's diary at Cyclingnews -- I can only imagine what it's like to go from being a U.S.-based outfit to a full-fledged part of one of the biggest teams in the world in a matter of a year! And yes, Jan's new haircut does make him look like David Hasselhof ...

Jeanson retires: About damn time. Sorry, but her story pissed me off from the start. Too much shady behavior. Or is it behaviour?

Taking a day off: This one is KILLING me! It's already almost 40 degrees outside, and we may hit 50. But I've been going since last Tuesday, and today is a scheduled day off ... I just have to keep reminding myself that as nice as today is, there are nicer days to come in April and May. But man! Do I want to be outside right now, ripping it around Cricket Hill. Maybe at lunch I'll go walk around the pond at work and "visualize." Nah, that would be too weird.

ONLY 330 DAYS TO NATZ!!

18 January 2006

No brakes! (Well, almost!)

I'm sitting here with my second cup of coffee, hands and feet still cold after a HOT shower and running the heater full blast on my drive. But it was worth it!

I hit Montrose again this morning, complete with 26-degree temps and 20mph west winds. I've been studying up on how to ride better off-road (more on that at a later date), and put some of the principles into practice out on the course. After a warmup of re-mount drills, I hit the trail for a couple of laps, concentrating on really using the terrain to my advantage to gain/scrub speed and corner better. I'm happy to report that by the last go-around, I was on my brakes only twice in the entire loop!

On the way home, I stopped and did a few foot-down standing starts, another one of my weaker "skills." I figure if I can work this type of stuff pretty well before road training really kicks in, I'll have less work to do when it comes time to go off-road again ...

Oh! And the extra 5mm I gained on my levers really seemed to make a difference. After 3 years, I think I just may finally have my Cannondale dialed in ...

Tom Skilling is a God

This is from Tuesday's Chicago Tribune:

January 2006: Mildest since the Great Depression
Published January 17, 2006

It's been almost a month since December's bitter chill relinquished its grip on the Chicago area. And what a turnaround it's been! Tuesday marks the 26th consecutive day of above normal temperatures. January's 36.9(degrees) average is 12.6(degrees) above the long-term average (24.3(degrees)), the mildest such period in 67 years since 1939--and 32(degrees) warmer than barbarically cold Jan. 1-16, 1979.Once ranked the 4th coldest on record, Meteorological Winter, 2006 has slipped 70 slots to rank as the 74th coldest of the 135 such periods on file here.

January's first 16 days haven't produced a single temperature below 20(degrees)--unusual at a time of the year when sub-zero readings are common. It's something which has happened in only five times since 1871. Eight sub-20(degrees) lows are typical by this date.Chicago isn't alone with its unusual January "warmth". Madison and Milwaukee, Wisconsin have hosted their warmest Januarys since 1942.

Tom Skilling is the Devil

This was also in yesterday's Chicago Tribune:

Hints our month long mild spell may yield to chilly air as February nears
Published January 17, 2006

The extreme level of warmth which has dominated the nation's heartland since January's open isn't any more sustainable than the abnormal chill with which Winter, 2005-06 opened in December. Double digit, multi-week surpluses are by nature on thin ice and this one is no exception. When it breaks, it may do so with a meteorological bang. Warmth has limited ice accumulations to shoreline areas or the bays of the northern Great Lakes. Lake Michigan's 41.5(degrees) temperature is 3.5(degrees) above the 10-year average and the warmest single lake surface temperature since at least 1995. When arctic air next makes contact with the mild, ice-free Great Lakes, snow development is likely to be explosive. A series of 16-day computer forecasts suggest a dome of mild air may rebuild late this month over the North Atlantic. That's similar to December's pattern and suggests arctic air may again be forced south into eastern North America in time for February's arrival.


Translation: Cold air and lake-effect snow are on the way. Let's hope the winds are from the west; as soon as they go north or east, Evanston and the North Shore will get hammered. Should be fun!!

ONLY 331 DAYS TO NATZ!!

17 January 2006

Am I that predictable?

What is it they say about "from the mouth of babes?" I guess Kim and I -- well, OK, Kim was -- a hit with our 2-year-old niece at New Years; Kaylie has been asking about Kim almost daily.
Kaylie: Where's Kim?
Kari: At home.

Kari: Where's your Uncle Chris?
Kaylie: Riding bike.

Apparently it was quite traumatic when I went for a ride on New Years Day -- I haven't come home yet! It's pretty incredible what kids can process at that age, isn't it?

Training update: After the 3-hour bike adjustment on Saturday, I needed to catch up on some sleep, so I skipped my weights session at the Y last night. The extra 90 minutes of zzzzz made a huge difference! (I'll still get two sessions this week, so don't despair.) And the weather forecast for the week makes it look like the party may be coming to an end ... with a romantic getaway to Milwaukee planned this weekend (including the, ahem, WCA 'Cross banquet*), my training will start to look more like what Bill envisioned. January is a transition month to "just stay in shape" anyway, and we've had a fortunate run of good luck and good weather that I took advantage of. The past couple of weeks are in the bank, and it's comforting to know that I don't have to kill myself in the snow and slush (or on the trainer!) that's sure to come for a little while longer.

* Kim and I are starting our year-long celebration of our 10-year wedding anniversary by heading to Milwaukee on the same weekend I proposed to her. Only I miscalculated, and I actually got down on my knee in the snow on Milwaukee's lakefront 11 years ago ... woops! The 'Cross banquet just happens to be Sunday night between Milwaukee and Madison -- I swear it had nothing to do with our scheduling, and Kim has been very gracious to agree that we could attend. It'll even out in early October, when I miss a race weekend to go back to Pennsylvania and the place we honeymooned!

(And yes, our wedding was in May. But we agreed to push back our trip out East to avoid any conflict with school or the road-racing season. Now, of course, it looks like I'll be free that weekend in May, but Kim may have finals to study for!)

ONLY 332 DAYS TO NATZ!!

16 January 2006

Five millimeters

I learned midway through the 'cross season this year that having my shift levers positioned higher would give me better control off-road, as opposed to the nearly straight positioning of my road bike. To make things easy, I just rotated the whole handlebar up … thanks to having "ergonomic" drops on my Ritchey bars, that gave me the best of both worlds -- high levers and a deep drop to grab. And lo and behold, it worked! Better control, better leverage!

Once the weather turned, I realized the disadvantage -- with more clothes and thicker gloves, the drop/lever spacing became difficult to manage. So I decided to rotate the bars back down, but also to raise the levers just a smidge more … just a de-tape, reposition, re-tape job right?

At 8:15 on Saturday night, I started the project, first by cleaning the bike. Figured I'd be done by 9 at the latest. We finally crawled into bed 5 millimeters and 3 hours later, and only after Kim ended up helping clean cassettes and washing the chain!

What I expected to be an easy re-tape job kind of went crazy, all because I have 'cross-top levers on my handlebars. These nifty in-line brake levers are great helpers when you're on the tops, but because of the cable run make even simple changes a multi-step process. I didn't realize this going in, and ended up having to cut housing, reposition and re-tape as I tried not to let my nerves get the better of me …

In the end it worked out great, but is a stark reminder that the guys at the Shop definitely know their stuff better than I! Especially that one guy … not Lou … not Alex … damn. Can't remember his name right now. Maybe after another cup of coffee …

Bloggers I know: In case you didn't see the comments from a couple of days ago, I'd like to draw attention to a few blogs from friends of mine!

Steve Driscoll is a fantastic rider on Mack who had an unfortunate run-in with a Buick (or and Olds?) a while back (the day after winning his first Cat. 1/2 race!), and just started blogging. Check out his Thursday entry for why it's great to be a bike rider, and to find out more about Sock Monkey and his collection of stuffed dinosaurs …

Mike "No Purchase" Necessary is an ex-Macker (now Mesa) with a huge engine and not much body mass … this guy is going places, and fast! He's in Arizona (not Mesa) right now, training for the upcoming assault on the season. Watch for his St. Louis-based team to be throwing down hard in three months …

Kim "mnlove" is a Minnesotan "trapped" in Virginia, whom we've known for -- wow, this is scary! -- something like 13 years. She went to school with Kim in St. Paul, and has kept in touch over the years. Her entry for last Thursday is funny in a thought-provoking way, and I guess I can forgive her professed "hatred" of Disney because she likes Finding Neverland and John Cusak …

Ride update: Tough ride yesterday out in Crystal Lake with the Mack crew -- Andy, Scott, Andy A., and Michael Zellmann. (Yes, that Michael Zellmann.) We were missing ex-Macker Mike Macedon, so with only five we headed out into the 20mph wind … The extra body would have definitely helped, but locals Andy, Scott and Mike did a great job pulling Andy A. and me around the cornfields and small hills of McHenry County. Let me tell you, the 3km climb up Deerpass just about killed me! I did hook up the PowerTap for the first time, not to train "by" power, but to train "with" it -- that is, ride by feel, but have the power numbers to look at later to get a sense for where I'm at.

Oh, and when our ride time came in at 3:48, I spent 13 minutes spinning around the parking lot in the 32-degree weather with no jacket on, just to say I got in more than 4 hours and prove how tough I am. Not really. Really.

Passings: I completely forgot that Friday the 13th was my one-year anniversary of having LASIK surgery! If you're considering having your eyes done, and are a valid candidate, I can't say enough how much of a life-changing event it is. I still wear glasses quite a bit -- but they're sunglasses, with no prescription, and the ability to read and see at night and -- gasp! -- see clearly when I shave my legs has been incredible. The staff at the Eye and Vision Center, headed by Dr. Marian Macsai (Julian Baumgartner's aunt, no less!), was amazing, and I really believe that my life is better now that I no longer have to rely on glasses. If you're interested, please feel free to ask me anything … I got the opportunity to watch a procedure before I went in, and although very scary to see up-close via closed-circuit TV, it was fascinating!

ONLY 333 DAYS TO NATZ!!

14 January 2006

Kickin' around

Thanks to everyone who paid any sort of attention to my thoughts on success -- although it came across as a reply to a comment, that's an entry that has been in my head since Day One. I really believe that, at least here in the U.S., our concept of success is horribly skewed from what it should be to lead a healthy life. Only when you move your focus away from going after No. 1 can you truly enjoy being alive. Now, I'll be the first to admit that winning really does feel good! But it shouldn't be the end-all, be-all. Just don't get between me and the finish line ...
Oh, and one other thing -- except for January, I follow Bill's programs to the letter. It's tought to not go super-hard with the Turin ride on a Wednesday night in June when everyone is hammering, but it's better for me to be doing zone 2 than 4 in the middle of race season. And from that perspective, his training plans are dead on.

News you can use: USA Cycling announced the Worlds team yesterday! Powers and Tonkin made the cut with automatics for Wicks, Trebon and Page ... Kona must be going nuts! And don't forget that Wisconsin native Bjorn Selander will be there in the Juniors ... should be some great racing!
ONLY 335 DAYS TO NATZ!!

13 January 2006

The measure of success

I've been planning to write this blog for a little while now, but wasn't sure when I was going to post it … a comment in a previous post by Anonymous the other day means that now would be as good a time as any.

In it, Anon suggests that the lack of results in August was, in fact, due to overtraining. That I seem to be more concerned about making my training numbers than about "actual" results. That overtraining isn't just about lack of motivation, but also a decrease in fitness and focus. He/she even asks whether I've podiumed or won any races.

He/she goes on to ask whether I participate in fun rides, and notes that my local club can fill me in on "poker rides" etc. that will help me maintain the "fun factor" but keep up the volume. That Kim and I could go on overnight rides to bring us closer together.

By its very nature, blogs are public, and although any of you who know me may be laughing at this person's questions, keep in mind that the "blog-o-sphere" is wide open to anyone in the world. So we'll accept the premise that this person is just asking the valid question, since it's pretty obvious that he/she has no clue about me, my personality, my competitive results, nor my relationship with Kim.

And it is a valid question. Especially when you consider that a race is, quite simply, a very intense training event. Your body stresses and adapts, whether it's from solo intervals on the road or fighting to get to the last corner at Downers Grove. So from that perspective, yeah, it was overtraining. But it was overtraining in a race environment: I brought myself to an incredible peak in late June, carried that fitness into July, and that's where I screwed up -- I set an over-ambitious Superweek schedule, and by the time August rolled around, I was fried. (And if you're keeping score, yes, this was against the advice of my coach, and was partly due to a misunderstanding of team goals.)

This was the first time I ever -- and I mean ever -- lost fitness when I wasn't supposed to. And it sucked. Bad. But thankfully, I had enough of a base that with a few weeks of easy riding -- and, yes, a late-season road race or two -- I was back at it, and feeling good by the time the late-season 'cross races rolled around.

I don't care how much I train. I don't like to sound like I'm bragging about how much I train. I sincerely apologize if that's how it sounds. I like to ride, pure and simple. I like to kill myself with intervals that simulate TT efforts. I like to jam up hills. I like to spin easy with a tailwind at my back. And, quite simply, the only reason I'm talking about all this is that it's January. Now is the time to do all that. Because come April, I like to race.

What's more important is to train right. (Yeah, I know, I sound like a commercial for Carmichael.) My physiology is such that I am good at sustained efforts at threshold, and have a very deep reservoir of endurance. So what do I do? In the off-season, when it's time to work on "limiters," I'm doing sprints. I'm doing hill repeats. I'm doing all the little things it takes to show up on race day with as complete a package as I'm able to muster. It's not about the training. It's about doing what you need to do to race fast.

And here's where I go off the deep end: I don’t care if I win. If I am the best racer there, I will win. But my success is not measured by podiums, or by results as Anon understands them. My success is measured by whether I raced better today than I did yesterday. Or last week. Or in the same event last year. Whether I had the guts to attack today. Whether I had the fitness to really go for it. Whether, if I didn't, I went for it anyway.

See, it's not about winning and losing. In a team environment, it absolutely is. And I had my fair share of "successes" last season, including wins for myself and significant contributions to team victories. And over the past couple of years, I've had enough "success" to move pretty quickly through the category rankings. But if you ask me about my greatest moment in a bike race? The 2004 Illinois state championship, when I was in a break to take the pressure off our sprinter, killed myself to make it into the 15-strong finishing group, and "only" managed 10th. That was a great race. (Our sprinter took the group for 3rd after two guys broke away.)

That's why I don't want to race Masters events. That's why I go to Natz. I live -- I exist -- to challenge myself at the highest level I possibly can. To see how I stack up. To push my own limits. In competition. That's why 'cross is so awesome -- it's all about how hard you can go. There is clearly a time and place for local group rides, and social rides, and easy outings with Kim. But I started racing with the express goal to push myself as far as I could. And you know what? I made it. And making it required getting "results." But I still have a lot of room for improvement, and I'm working on that, which is why I'm training right now. So I can enter the 2006 race season well prepared to take on everyone else.

My philosophy can pretty much be summed up by this speech from Without Limits. I'm not sure how historically accurate it is, but it is purported to be the eulogy that Nike co-founder and Oregon track coach Bill Bowerman delivered at the memorial service for Steve Prefontaine ("Pre"). If you really want to understand me, and my approach to training and racing, read this:

All my life, man and boy, I've operated under the assumption that the main idea in running was to win the race. Naturally, when I became a coach I tried to teach people how to do that. Tried to teach Pre how to do that. Tried like hell to teach Pre to do that. And Pre taught me. Taught me I was wrong. Pre, you see, was troubled by knowing that a mediocre effort can win a race, and a magnificent effort can lose one. Winning a race wouldn't necessarily demand that he give it everything he had from start to finish. He never ran any other way. I couldn't get him to, and God knows I tried . . . but . . . Pre was stubborn. He insisted on holding himself to a higher standard than victory. 'A race is a work of art' is what he said and what he believed and he was out to make it one every step of the way.

Of course he wanted to win. Those who saw Pre compete or who competed against him were never in doubt how much he wanted to win. But how he won mattered to him more. Pre thought I was a hard case. But he finally got it through my head that the real purpose of running isn't to win a race. It's to test to the limits of the human heart. That he did . . . No one did it more often. No one did it better.

Hold onto the night

We're enjoying the fourth mildest year opening in recorded history right now, and let me tell you, it's heaven. (Especially since the winter opened as the fourth coldest!) It helps that Kim started school again this week, so yesterday's commute-plus-run became instead an evening-long sojourn to the Museum of Science and Industry on the South Side via the Lakefront Path.

It was one of those nights that was absolutely magical: the wind was out of the south-southwest, but it was nearly 54 degrees and wasn't enough of a headwind to kill motivation or momentum. I started out from the Shop, grabbing a Luna Bar on the way out, and headed through Rogers Park just as everyone was getting home and settling down for the evening.

Once at the Lake, it was simply breathtaking … with a nearly full moon reflecting off the lake from a nearly cloudless sky, and basking in the glow of Lake Shore Drive, I turned off my headlamp and just soaked up the sights and sounds of a vibrant city just letting go of a beautiful day. It was one of those faux-spring days that seems to hold all sorts of promise, and I had to stop at the Museum Campus in each direction to take in the majesty of the city skyline. From the moving gaudiness of the Ferris Wheel to the overwhelming size of the Sears Tower, I couldn't help but be moved by such an amazing view.

The trip down went well enough, and I was still feeling pretty good by the time I turned around. This is where the fun began … with the wind more out of the south than the west, I flew home, somehow losing track of the half-mile markers as I spun my way north. Before I knew it, I was downtown, then at Belmont, then Montrose … and finally back into Rogers Park and onto the streets. I switched back on my headlamp and continued in the big ring all the way back to Howard.

It was a much longer workout than I had planned, but it just had to happen that way -- when you get a "free day" like that, you just gotta' grab it. This is the why I ride a bike.

The flip side is that laundry and dinner ran late, and I still had that hour run to do in the morning … and boy did I pay for it. I managed just enough sleep to feel fine, but a long ride day with less than enough recovery before an hour-long run does a number on your legs. Especially in January! But I'm not complaining … it was still 51 degrees when I headed out the door, and although it started raining on my way home, it was a fantastic morning!

ONLY 336 DAYS TO NATZ!!

12 January 2006

Using your discretion

By the way, tomorrow is the day discretionary picks will be announced for the U.S. elite men's 'cross squad for Worlds. But wait, I'm confused. Weren't the automatic nominations supposed to go out on Tuesday? Tonkin says he, Powers and Baker are fighting for the last two spots, meaning the rest are already known ... and of course we all know who they are, but why can't USA Cycling seem to get it together enough to issue an obvious press release? It's marketing people!

THE QUESTION

Kim asked me THE QUESTION this morning. No, not that question … the other one. The one that always seems to get asked when it's mid-January and I'm putting in more hours each week than I do in July … "Are you 'training' right now?"

I try not to get defensive, but I'm sure I do a little. See, I feel guilty -- I take a couple of weeks off after 'cross each year, but I still weight lift a little. And then by Christmas I'm starting to feel fat and lazy. By New Year's, I'm back on the bike and maybe still doing a little running. And then the weather gets nice for a week in January, and my hours spike …

My weight is usually still up, mostly due to weight lifting, so of course I'm freaking out about that. All the roadies I know are riding pretty big miles; well, at least those who have relocated to warmer climes. The first indoor TT is coming up, and I'm thankfully skipping it again this year -- but the results will still get posted to the web, and I'll still comb through them trying to get a sense for where my competitors are at. Heck, even Todd Wells is back on the bike … sure, he gets paid to be, but still.

And bless my coach, but he just doesn't get it either. Each year, he schedules me for 10 or 11 hours a week in January, with another hour or 90 minutes of running/cross training and 3 or so hours in the weight room. This year, he even suggested taking a month off the bike. Completely. I lasted 6 days, and then started calling him every other day until he wrote me a program for the month.

And I sort of feel bad, but I see that program as a guideline at this point. "Just do whatever to stay in shape," he tells me. "Here's the plan, but if you miss because of weather, that's OK." See, Bill's an Olympic track sprinter, used to focusing all his peak energy on one or two efforts a year, lasting less than 10 seconds each. The first time I showed him a month's worth of road races, he almost keeled over! Then again, the first time I did his hill sprint workout, I almost keeled over. He's great at finding the right workout at the right time, and fitting it all together … but I'm not sure he fully understands my compulsion to ride.

So in this week of 10.5 hours, with 90 minutes of running, I look for the opportunities. And 10.5 hours becomes 12. Or 15. Last year, we had a four-day run of great weather that saw 11 hours turn into 19. When he schedules me for an hour-long run, I do it that evening … after putting in a 2-hour ride/commute to work.

Do I train too much? Maybe. Do I "over"train? I don't think so. See, even when I'm putting in hours on the bike, and hours in the weight room, I'm having fun. Sure, it sometimes gets boring, or tedious. And sometimes I sleep a little longer in the morning, or take a nap on a weekend afternoon. But except for last August -- which I attribute to overracing, not overtraining -- I have never once had a breakdown where I've wanted to put the bike away and not ride. Every day except one for the past 5-1/2 years, I have wanted to ride -- and even on that one day, I put in 90 minutes before trying to forget I was a bike racer.

And each year, my results get a little stronger, and I make progress toward my goals. That's all part of training smart -- if you're going to do the volume, you need to know when to step it back. And until last August, we got it right more often than we got it wrong. But with a little corrective action, I was back at it again by mid-October, and the 'cross season ended on a fairly positive note.

So I tried to answer the question this morning. The answer is sort of "no," but the answer is really -- as it always is -- "yes." And until I'm sick of it, I'll keep doing it. Some weeks more than others, but in the end I'm focusing everything on the next major goal … and training to get there.

Small world: Rode 2 hours last night in fabulous weather, with 20min of 'cross drills and two laps at Montrose. Ran into Andy on Pratt, driving the work van around -- the world truly is very small! Our alarm got messed up this morning, so I missed the group and rode to work … the legs are a bit tired after fighting a headwind all the way here!
ONLY 337 DAYS TO NATZ!!

11 January 2006

Wheels n' things

Wow. Holy cow. I took advantage of a break in the wet weather to head down to the Montrose course yesterday morning. And it was fast. Wicked fast. Blazing.

The conditions were perfect for me, and it was fun to show Scott Starbuck what he missed when he didn't race in December. Well, sort of. Instead of the slick, scary track that greeted me then and last weekend, the course was dry, hard-packed (actually, slightly frozen), and fun. And did I mention fast?

I've still got the Zipp 303s with the Vittoria tyres from Lou, and this was a perfect day for them. I actually had to run them a little high, as I felt myself bottoming out on the rear on the road ruts toward the lakefront, but I'll just attribute that to my current state of off-season "largess." Once down on the course, though, they were perfect, and I was flying. OK, I wasn't fast. It was the course. Smooth as glass, all the way around. But still.

I still need to work on the cornering quite a bit, and definitely need more time off-camber, but I felt so much better and more confident after yesterday than I did on Sunday. I'm considering moving to Wisconsin so I don't have to give back the wheels (I figure the taxes up there would pretty much equal that out, right?), and I hear Jim Holmes is getting ever closer to that magic 40cm bunny hop ... have I really become a 'cross racer in my heart? It's January, I'm supposed to be talking about LT sets and power measurements, aren't I?

ONLY 338 DAYS TO NATZ!!

10 January 2006

Comparisons

I hope everyone understands that my feeble attempt to compare today's influx of North Americans into the Euro 'cross scene with the early 80's road scene wasn't in any way a comparison of Jonathan Page to Jock Boyer, in anything other than a sporting/pioneering sense. I know these are troubled times, and Boyer is a troubled individual, so just wanted to make that clear. Back in the day, Boyer followed a pretty "traditional" path to get himself positioned into the Euro peloton, choosing not to eat ice cream whenever he wanted, etc. Page seems to be doing the same thing, and it's finally paying off handsomely!

09 January 2006

Nada mucho

Whew. Week one down the tubes. It's funny, if you ask my coach I'm not officially training yet -- January is a "transition" month for me. But with time off work, and some pretty good weather for this time of year, I was feeling the jones …

So last week was a couple of runs, a few really good weight lifting sessions at the Y, and -- gasp! -- quite a few rides … like one every day. A couple were super-easy spin sessions, including a fun one with Kim down to the Lakefront path in a slight fog, but most were garden-variety zone 2 stuff. At least, when I was staying away from the front on the Judson ride of course.

Sunday was a lot of fun, as Andy and I headed up to the VQ trail ride out of Dan Wright Woods. It was my first time on the Des Plaines River Trail that far north, and it was a great ride with an outbound tailwind. I had my tyres up a little too high, and sat at the back of the group as practice, so by the time Andy and I turned I was feeling completely uncoordinated -- time to go off-road again, and soon! I wasn't hitting my brakes all the time, but more than I should have!

Riding the Zipps in the wind was fun too -- as we battled the headwind coming home, I could tell that I was on an aero wheelset. Made a big difference, and certainly lightened the bike by a bit! I'll be sad to give them back, but I've had a good run …

Kim and I got done with our "spring cleaning" this weekend too -- our two weeks a year where there's no school and no family outings. It's weird coming home to an organized house without a bike in the living room … I also took the chance to re-reassess my season. Thanks to travel and family I'll be racing even less on the road than I previously thought -- not a bad thing, I'm just hoping to hit September with a massive base that will put me over the top in October and November!

Oh! And I got caught up on some reading -- did you know that Tom Boonen won both Flanders and Roubaix this year?

ONLY 340 DAYS TO NATZ!!

05 January 2006

Party like it's 1981

Has anyone noticed the parallel between now and the early 1980s? I'm not talking bell bottoms and unrest in the Middle East, but specifically about the inroads U.S. riders are making into a traditionally Euro-dominated sport? Sort of makes you want to call Jonathan Page, "Jock," doesn't it?

(That's a reference to Jonathan "Jock" Boyer, one of the earliest U.S. racers in the Euro pro peloton. He wasn't the first, but his success paved the way for Greg LeMond, and was key in the subsequent invasion of Anglophiles into the Euro scene ...)

Anyway, "Jock P" now seems to be having a killer season -- in addition to the big V and the podium placings mentioned earlier, JP has finally found the form he's been looking for since first heading to Belgium a couple of years back -- he's consistently placing right around 5th in almost every race he's entered! And the excuses have gone out the window -- he's managing these results despite being sick and fighting off rusty metal shards!

Even better for the U.S. contingent -- JP is no longer alone! According to these results from the last of the "Christmas 'Cross," there were two top-10 rides by U.S. juniors, and a podium by a U.S. woman! This is in addition to a 6th place for Page, a 14th for Baker, and rounding out the elite top 20 with Wicks, Powers and Anthony. To be fair, it's a C2 and a few of the top names weren't there, but still!

Sure, Page is head and shoulders above the rest of the U.S. riders. But the seeds have clearly been sown, and the pieces all seem to be in place, to start seeing better and better rides from U.S. folks in Euro 'cross races. This will lead to better rides at Worlds, and results like Matt Kelly's win in the Juniors a few years back (the first U.S. medal at World's) will no longer be considered in isolation. Who knows? When the current Cannibal of 'Cross retires, how wide will that door be open? And can a U.S. rider step right through?

04 January 2006

Crossnobbery

One of the things I love about cyclocross is its openness -- at the races, there just aren't the snobbish attitudes and posturing that you find on the road. I suppose some of it has to do with the fact that when you win you are covered in mud and muck, with snot and goo dripping from your face … but I know some of it has to do with the personalities involved in the sport as well. On the whole, they seem like pretty good people.

That's why it was with some surprise that I watched Transition: An American Cyclo-Cross Season. All in all, it's a pretty cool video, sometimes a bit of a commercial for New England 'cross, but an interesting look at the way 'cross is done at a very high level during the 2004 season.

The focal point of the movie is Adam Hodges Myerson, a pro and founder/president of Cycle-Smart Coaching. I could totally identify with his roller coaster of emotions as the season wore on, and was really getting into it as he struggled through illness and tried desperately to find form. (The pierced nipples plus hairy torso were a bit much, but that's racing, right? He has since made some modifications ...)

But then, long about early December, Hodges Myerson starts to question whether he should go to Natz in Portland. He doesn't feel competitive, and thinks that maybe he should sit this one out. Ultimately, he does go, but not before delivering a monologue on why some riders shouldn't even line up at Natz. "You shouldn't go if you're just going to ride around and get in the way," he says, "I hate it when guys do that."

USA Cycling is adopting categories for next season, and much of the drive behind it comes from Hodges Myerson. One of his proposals -- not yet officially adopted -- is that only Cat. 1s with UCI points and ranked on the NRC or USGP should be eligible for Elite Natz. Thus far, Elite Natz has been "open" to encourage participation, but this has led to large fields filled with those unwashed masses who only pay their entry to "get in the way."

I'll be the first to agree that this year, in Providence, I was part of the unwashed. But I did have goals for the race -- I was hoping to get in at least three laps, and most of all I wanted to experience what it's like at that level. These aren't the "noble goal" of finishing on the lead lap as Hodges Myerson set for himself in 2004 (and which he did not accomplish), but in my opinion they are both building blocks to my future in the sport. Does that not make them "noble?" It wasn't my intent to just "show up and ride around," as he derides in the film ... but then again, from his perspective, it may have looked like it, since I'm not at the front of the race.

I have two HUGE issues with the suggestion to change qualification, both based on my time in Rhode Island: 1. I crashed heavily at the start line, piling into a mass of bodies -- from a crash in and amongst those guys with UCI points! and 2. I was nowhere near Wells or Trebon when I was pulled -- the officials were pulling early and often, and I wasn't getting in anyone's way. In fact, on the first lap, there were plenty of UCI point-getters who were in my way! So how is that the best differentiator? What makes complete exclusion somehow better than the current practice of seeding based on points?

I have stated publicly that my goals for next season include earning UCI points, to ensure a better start position. For me to do so will mean traveling hundreds of miles in September and October, driving and flying to courses as close as Detroit (5.5 hours) and as far as Boulder, Colo. (17.5 hours) I've got news for Mr. Hodges Myerson and others: THERE ARE NOT THAT MANY MIDWEST UCI RACES! (And are any of them on the NRC?) Is USA Cycling to exclude those of us in the Heartland just because we can't get time off to fly to Gloucester?

I can see Hodges Myerson's point, I just don't agree. I'm on board with getting a Chicago/Wisconsin/Iowa UCI weekend, and soon. There is clearly enough of a scene to make it happen here. But until that's a reality, let's keep the qualification standards for Natz more open. I promise I won't get in the way, but at least give me a chance to see what I can do against the best in the country. On a course like Providence, it's nothing to Wells or Trebon whether I'm there or not, so what's the harm?


ONLY 345 DAYS TO NATZ???

03 January 2006

A case of the Mondays

I know it's Tuesday, but being the first business day of the year, I think I'm entitled to my first case of "the Mondays" for 2006. I don't remember what movie it's from (Office Space?), but having a "case of the Mondays" sort of sums up how I'm feeling right now about racing on the road this year.

See, overall, I feel pretty good. I'm motivated to be on the bike (even violating my 40-degree rain limit this morning), I'm having some of the best weight-lifting/core workouts I've ever had, my weight isn't all that far from where I want it, and I had an absolute blast sliding around in the muck at Montrose on Sunday. I even spent the Holiday season watching a bunch of bike-related videos, some of them multiple times.

But then I read about how Wes is headed out to California, and will be lining up at the NRC races soon. Or Garrett's recap of his year. Or that Little Mike has joined Mesa, and will be in Tucson for the next 3-1/2 months. And I have to admit that, for the first time in 5 years, when I think about Superweek, or Joe Martin, or Downers Grove, or Proctor, all I can think of is "so what?"

I had my best racing year ever in 2005, and clearly left the door open for 2006 to be even better. Racing well at the elite level isn't an overnight proposition, and even though I'll never be at the top of the top, I can clearly see where I could make improvements in the new year. If -- and here's where I struggle -- if I'm motivated to do so. And right now, I'm not so much.

I just feel … deflated, when it comes to thinking about the road season. I really think the teams situation has a lot to do with it -- I'm looking forward to racing with Mack again this year, but there's an edge lacking that we had when we had a sponsored elite squad. And although I didn't look that hard, this off-season brought really only one viable alternative for me next year -- while at the same time, some of my rivals/peers are getting rides on prestigious teams with fewer results than I've posted. But that said, the number of teams in the area has declined precipitously, and it really has become a "buyers" market -- it's not what you do, but who you know …

I don't want to sound like I'm dissing on Mack. It'll be fun working with Andy, and the enthusiasm he brings to being a new Cat. 2. I've been there, and the possibilities are still endless! And with the rest of the guys, many of whom are Cat. 3s poised to move up. And ultimately the reason I re-upped with Mack was because of the team itself … these are some of the best racers in the Midwest, and above all some of the best people. I may miss some of the pressure cooker that elite, sponsored racing brings, but ultimately there are no other teams I'd rather be on … I can give you a laundry list of reasons (personal and public) about why I'd rather NOT race for such-and-such a team. (And, secretly, I'm looking forward to having even better results, just to show some of them!)

In the meantime, though, I seem to be having trouble getting "up" for April, May, and June … more than anything, I just want it to be September again. That may be putting the cart before the horse, but those falling leaves are calling …
ONLY 346 DAYS TO NATZ!!

02 January 2006

Go Lyne!

This was definitely a productive time for North Americans in European 'cross ... Lyne Bessette pulled out a podium finish in a World Cup! I have to admit, when I read reports like this, that I'm glad I'm not racing right now, but it's fun to be following along as riders from over here make some serious inroads on the Euro scene!

Awesome workout yesterday on the Illinois State C'ship course, hitting the off-camber stuff over and over as the weather warmed and the ground softened. I skipped the Judson ride to get some time on the dirt -- my first time off-road since Natz, and the first time I've ever intentionally gone off-road outside of 'cross season.

The track wasn't as slick as the race was, given that there was no snow on it, and rode much faster this time. But the berms were still slick, especially when the sun came out for a few minutes ... I cashed it in twice, once on the sideways hill before the tunnel, and once on the backside turn as you come around the fencing -- the first was my fault, losing momentum as mud and leaves caked my rear wheel; the second was totally unexpected, as I came flying down the backside with a tailwind, made the turn, and found myself on the ground all in less than a second. Awesome!

Of course, I spent nearly double the amount of time as my workout, cleaning my bike later in the day. But it was worth it!

I also got the chance to try some new equipment -- I borrowed a set of Zipp 303 'Cross wheels with Vittoria tyres. It's fun to be at the point where I can tell what different wheels and tyres feel like ... nothing like Sven of course (same article), but still ...

The wheels were super-stiff, and Zipp has coated their carbon braking surface, making it pretty grabby. But they were light, and it only took a little bit to get the feel for feathering in the corners ... helped, of course, once they got a bit lubed with mud. I liked the feel a lot, and am sure they'd be super-fast in a race situation.

The tyres, on the other hand, weren't my favorite. It was weird -- they cleared mud OK, but only once they had become completely caked, and I had made it to a gravel or pavement section. It wasn't the central tread so much as the sidewall knobs -- I had to stop several times and free up my back wheel when it became so caked with mud and leaves that I couldn't ride. They felt OK, probably a bit soft for the conditions, but I wasn't overly impressed with their grip, so they had to run soft ... sort of a viscious circle, huh?

Anyway, today it was raining and thundering when the alarm went off, so I again skipped the Judson ride. We then proceeded to over-sleep until about 10, missing the only "dry" part of the day! It was nice to sleep for 12 hours, though, on the heels of a 2-hour nap yesterday! So today will be a weights session and a spin on the trainer ... not sure if I'm going to do some real time in the dining room, or save some for dryer climes tomorrow ...

Hope everyone is having a great start to 2006!

ONLY 347 DAYS TO NATZ!!

01 January 2006

JP the First

Jonathan Page has become the first U.S. rider to win a European UCI race! Instead of pissing and moaning about his stomach bug, the rusty metal in his foot, and the myriad other problems that seem to plague him, JP just downed some yogurt, built himself a custom orthotic, and got on with business! Happy New Year to him!

APPY NEW YEAR!

So what do you get when the H sticker falls off your New Year's greeting? "Appy New Year" of course!

Hope everyone's 2006 started happy and safe, and good luck and many happy returns in the New Year!

ONLY 348 DAYS TO NATZ!