28 February 2006

Fra-jeeel-eh -- Must be Italian!

It's a normal reaction that when watching a film, we are drawn to the main characters. Especially when we're kids or teens, watching a kid/teen-friendly film, the stars of the show are the actors with whom we can identify -- from Henry Thomas in E.T. to Sean Aston in The Goonies to Matthew Broderick in Ferris Bueller.

Every once in a while, though, a movie comes along in which the Dad steels the show.

Usually the Dad is a secondary part, a foil for the trials and tribulations the kids are going through. A part generally cast with a venerable character actor, the Dad is part of the tapestry that makes up the kid's life, but does not occupy a front-and-center role.

The most memorable Dads, though, take their bit parts and turn them into cinematic legend. Who will ever forget Peoria native David Ogden Stiers as Al Meyer in Better Off Dead? Or even better, Paul Dooley as Ray Stohler in Breaking Away? Between just these two, you could fill an entire highlight reel of non-sequeters and one-liners.

Perhaps one of the best performances -- nearly on par with Dooley in its impact on kid-dom and the sheer excellence of the portrayal -- has to be Darren McGavin as the Old Man in the 1983 classic A Christmas Story. He was not the focus of Ralphie's life. He interacted little with the children at all, in fact. But what McGavin did as a furnace-battling, hound-dog hating, turkey-loving, work-a-day family man will forever be a part of history.

Who can forget the quizzical look when Randy pops out from under the sink? Or the swearing/non-swearing so perfectly executed every time the furnace broke or the Bumpus hounds invaded? And how about the haggling and the tire changing? And above all, we will always remember "It's a Major Award!" that he won, and the "Fra-jeeel-eh -- Must be Italian!" written on the crate that delivered THE LAMP.

It was with great sadness, then, that I read about Darren McGavin's death this weekend. I had heard about Don Knotts, but in the craziness of the news coverage, somehow Ralphie's Old Man had slipped through the cracks. I had no idea of everything else he had done -- every time I saw him on the big or little screen, he was always "the dad from A Christmas Story."

Thanks to the miracle of film, his legacy will live on. But passings like these always make me stop and think -- and this is one case where I am sad that he is gone, but happy to have seen his work. And in his honor, I think tonight just might be a movie night -- and maybe we'll have duck. "Get your coat ... we're going OUT for dinner."

ONLY 292 DAYS TO NATZ!!

27 February 2006

Phase 1

I finished Phase 1 of my training this weekend. Finally! It's not that I don't like going to the weight room (and in fact I have several more weeks to go), but 8 or 10 weeks of total body workouts, in addition to trying to ride, really wear you out!

So what is Phase 1? Basically, it's the short off-season transition in which I reacquaint myself with the weight room, followed by 8 weeks of what I call "heavy lifting." Of course, I'm a pasty white, skinny bike rider with funny tan lines, so the "heavy" is all relative, especially in the testosterone-fueled confines of the YMCA ... but at least my legs look really good since I shave them at least once a week!

The workouts are intended to really build up my core/ab muscles, and try to get a jump on the strength building required for the season. It's a lot of high-rep, low-weight stuff, although I do push myself here and there. I'm happy to report that this year, I was able to get a lot farther than in years past -- I actually set a weight goal on the squat rack, and I hit it on Saturday!

At the same time, I'm riding -- mostly 90 minutes or 2 hours during the week, and then 2-1/2 to 3-1/2 on the weekends. Nothing too strenuous, just zone 2 with some zone 3, and every once in a while some strength intervals. This year I did some running too -- twice a week, just trying to make sure my "runners knee" doesn't implode before next 'cross season.

All in all, it's a good program, and although I'm physcially tired from my long Palos ride yesterday, mentally I feel fresh and ready to go. I still refuse to get on my road bike, but even that's going to happen soon -- Saturday's Judson ride was super-fast for February, and I was on my pit bike with mostly bald 'cross tires! Ouch!

And now that Phase 2 is starting, I need to put my 'cross dreams on the back burner a little bit -- it dawned on me this weekend that I race on the road in just 3 weeks! And Hillsboro is only 3 weeks after that! So I'll transition to upper-body weights only, still working on building the core, and start to do longer and harder rides, sometimes on the same day! I have a tough interval session this Thursday, and will hit Judson again on Saturday before queueing up on Sunday for a long ride in the hills of McHenry County -- bring it on!

ONLY 293 DAYS TO NATZ!!

24 February 2006

Not sure if this means Madison ...

... but Renee has got to be dancing the happy dance today!

From the Trib (emphasis added):

Powerful 40+ m.p.h. gusts headed for Chicago; 10"+ Upper Midwest snows
Published February 24, 2006

When winds align through the atmosphere at the surface and aloft--as often happens in the southeast quadrants of this area's large scale low pressure systems--velocities soar. That's precisely the meteorological set-up which threatens to transform the calm of Friday's opening hours into a gale at times this afternoon and evening. The strongest gusts, particularly in open areas, could exceed 40 m.p.h. before the day ends. In marked contrast to the mild temperatures expected to accompany the powerful winds here-- readings more typical of late March than February--snow advisories and winter storm watches were issued late Thursday from Montana to Upper Michigan on the storm system's north side in anticipation of heavy snow accumulations. With more than two feet of snow already covering the ground from previous storms and lake snows in Upper Michigan and more than a foot down in northern Wisconsin, the half foot to foot of new snow Friday through Saturday promises to be a bonanza for the Upper Midwest's outdoor winter sports enthusiasts.

Birthday greetings: Tomorrow (Saturday) is the 20th birthday to former Chicagoan and XXX-AthletiCo racer Rebecca Much. In case you haven't been following international women's racing in the past couple of years, Rebecca has made quite a name for herself, with multiple national titles and a silver at the World's a couple years back. She's got a bright future ahead of her! For a bit of a humorous look at what it's like to be the youngest member of the international powerhouse T-Mobile squad, check out this interview ...

In case you didn't know

In my last post I mentioned that Ekimov and Voigt are legends:

Ekimov, aka "Eki," won a Gold medal at Sydney (beating Lance) and Silver at Athens for Russia, has multiple World championships, has only two to go to tie the record of 16 completed Tours de France, and even beat Lance at the 1994 Tour du Pont. He was hand-picked by Lance to be on Postal's Tour team back in the day.

Jens Voigt is a multiple-time Tour stage winner, wore the Yellow Jersey last year and once before, and is a former German National Champion on the road.

That's some serious power up there with a boy from Madison! (Even if the Cyclingnews commentator just called him "Mick!") (Oh, and by the way, our Elite Criterium National Champ, Brad Huff, missed the time cut yesterday. Shucks.)

Never thought I'd see the day ...

Check this out from the live coverage of the Tour of California ... it's about 2:30 p.m. Chicago time right now:

12:23 PST The gap is still 3'15". They are on another climb now. Its about 3km long and steep in parts. Steve Hegg adds that this climb causes a lot of people to get off and walk in the Solvang Century ride that comes through these parts. So its pretty steep.
12:25 PST If any of you are fans of the movie Sideways, They shot some of the film here.One reader tells us, just after Zaca Mesa winery is the sting in the tail, a slightly brutal hill known as “heartbreak hill.” Then they have a fast descent before hitting the next hill, known as “the wall.” This has an even faster descent.
12:26 PST The gap has started to come down now. Its 2'45" as they go down a descent.

Current race situation
Breakaway: Jens Voigt (CSC), Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner), Viatcheslav Ekimov (Discovery) and Nick Reistad (Jelly Belly)

For those of you not from the Midwest, Nick is from Madison and is an all-around joker and nice guy -- he and I were in a group in last year's Lakefront Road Race; Nick was the one pointing out the babes in bikinis over on the beach ... Somehow I doubt he'll be doing the same in Solvang, with legends Voigt and Ekimov driving the train!!!!!!

Down With the Sickness

It seems you're having some trouble
In dealing with these changes
Living with these changes
The world is a scary place
Now that you've opened up the demon in me

I rediscovered my mullet side about four years ago when I heard the first single off of Believe, Disturbed's second album. At the time, I honestly thought it was a new Metallica song, having missed pretty much the whole Numetal movement in the late 1990s/early 2000s. "Prayer" really grabbed my attention, its driving beat overlayed with stirring lyrics proclaiming that "Living just isn't hard enough/Burn me alive inside/Living my life's not hard enough/Take everything away …" Seemed a perfect metaphor for my time trailing!

One of my rules is that I never buy an album unless I hear two singles that I like. That saves me from costly mistakes, and very rarely fails to provide a CD that I will listen to over and over, for a long time. I took a chance, though, in back-dating my collection to include Disturbed's first album, The Sickness -- and boy was I surprised the first time I heard the album cut of the title track! (If you're not familiar, it contains some weird dream sequence about parental abuse -- by the time they cut Believe, Numetal was on its way out, and the raw anger of Sickness had given way to more radio-friendly fare.)

So despite the initial rush I felt when I first heard Believe, I ended up shelving Sickness -- lead singer David Draiman is immensely talented, but I had no desire to hear swearing in every song, nor to be growled at repeatedly.

When the Chicago band's next album, Ten Thousand Fists, came out last year, I was enthralled. Fists combines the emotion of Sickness with the melodic tendencies of Believe to deliver a set of songs that covers a range of topics -- from political commentary to toxic relationships. It's by far their best offering yet, and has become a permanent staple in my pre-race iPod ritual.

Being the pedantic weirdo that I am, I also decided to have a "DisturbedFest" on the way back from Jingle Cross Rock. Starting with "Voices," I went through each album in turn -- and I sort of rediscovered Sickness. The raw anger no longer offends, and I have come to appreciate Draiman's ability to "scat" even as he transitions his voice into melodic harmonies that seem to defy the range of someone with a voice as deep as his.

Why am I writing about this? Because this week -- in fact, yesterday morning -- I threw Sickness on in the car. And when it got to the chorus intro on the title track, all of a sudden something just clicked.

Looking at my own reflection
When suddenly it changes
Violently it changes
There is no turning back now
You've woken up the demon in me

I am not happy with the way Groundhog turned out. I'm unsatisfied. I'm mad. I'm anxious. I'm disturbed.

There has been one thing missing in my athletic career, something I've never been able to express. From pee-wee football, through baseball, to high school, I've never really felt the burning "need" to win -- as you've seen from my writing here, I've always been satisfied with doing "the best I can." I've never had a "killer instinct."

Now I do.

I can't explain it really. I first noticed it a couple of weeks ago out in Palos. Then again last Saturday, when I was riding the trails with Jeff and Andy -- since I was unfamiliar with the area, I let Jeff take the lead. And as soon as he did, I got restless. I got anxious. I even got a little mad. And that carried through to Sunday. For the first time, I can honestly say that I felt a need to win. A need to BURY my competitors.

In the words of Disturbed: racing 'cross has "woken up the demon in me."

I will have to learn to harness it. I will have to learn to not reflect my emotion on those around me -- especially Kim, who provides so much support. And my number one objective is still to have fun out there. But god help you if you get in my way -- somehow I have found that killer instinct that has been lacking, and the push to get UCI points is no longer just a desire, it is a full-fledged NEED. Failure is not an option.

It's somewhat exciting to finally feel this way. Christmas can't come soon enough. I won't let it ruin the love I have for riding and racing. I don't want to come off like an ass to my fellow competitors. But there is a drive inside that has never been there before, and I will be able to use it to my advantage to get results.

For once, I can say I am truly Down with the Sickness.


ONLY 296 DAYS TO NATZ!!

23 February 2006

George

I've decided to try to be George Costanza. Do you think the president of our company will notice if he walks by my cube, which is located in the central atrium of the building?

According to these Canadians, I'd be in good company ... do you think my employees will notice the stuffed animal tucked in my briefcase?

Knackered

I love the British word for "tired." It's knackered, and just so perfectly captures the feeling. I think there's a word for words that sound like what they are, but right now I'm too knackered to look it up.

I'm also too knackered to look up the last time I did intervals on the road. I think it was sometime in August, just as my form and fitness were starting to go; that sounds about right, as usually by August we're spending more time racing and a lot more time recovering. I tried to keep training; I know by September I was just spinning easily and letting 'cross races serve as my intensity.

I did do some zone 3 intervals on the dirt a couple of weeks ago, and last Sunday's Groundhog race was a good interval session as well. I was supposed to do some running hill repeats two weeks ago, and some race prep zone 5 repeats last week, but my cold took care of that. So that brings me to today, and did I mention how tired I am?

I really wish I were a pro cyclist today. All lifestyle issues aside, I would love to be lying in bed right now sleeping off the effects of my first road interval session in 6 months. To be fair, I did it on my 'cross bike, but with nearly bald tires and on the Lakefront Path in Chicago. So that qualifies, I think.

As I headed out, I was even a little bit worried that it wouldn't be hard enough. I've gotten so used to -- and so in love with -- being on the dirt, that I was concerned there wouldn't be enough resistance on the pavement. Boy was I wrong! The first VO2max rep went well, and then I had to make a choice about exactly which type of intervals I would do (I had two options, both of which started with the same rep). Because I'm still weight lifting, I chose the "easier" option -- if that was easy, I need to rethink my priorities! By the end of the TT-effort rep, I was shelled; there was a beautiful sunrise to my right, and all I could think about was finding a nice shady spot to lie down and pass out. And then I had to do a second set!

In a sort of sadistic way, I'm proud of myself. The first interval session always hurts, and this time I was able to make it hurt worse than in the past. How is this a good thing? As long as I give myself enough recovery, I will be stronger for it. Cyclists are known for making their hard days too easy and their easy days too hard: By going super-hard (but not overboard) today, tomorrow's easy day will be that much easier, and next month's race won't put me in my grave.

So I guess the road season has almost officially started, and I'm less than a month away from my debut at Parkside. Hillsboro is three weeks later, the high point of my early season, before a long break leading up to the craziness in May and June. Truth be told? I'm too damn tired today to think about it! But if I can continue to train better this season, my progress should continue ... why is October so far away?

ONLY 297 DAYS TO NATZ!!

22 February 2006

What are friends for?

Kim and I don't watch a lot of television, but what we do watch, we watch religiously. And we watch it on tape, so we can see the programs on our time (and fast-forward through the commercials!) It's because of this that between us we've seen every episode of a bunch of shows, and also is the reason we're only on Stage 10 of last year's Tour de France. (We were supposed to be done by Christmas, darn it!)

It's my job to program the VCR. Every once in a while, though, I screw it up. Because Chris and Kim time isn't exactly in synch with network TV time, I set to record all shows 4 minutes ahead and 4 minutes after. And every so often, I mix up the hours, and we end up with 8 minutes of television. Let me tell you, it's a horrible buzz kill when we've waited days to watch a show, only to see the opening credits followed by static!

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I screwed up West Wing. It was the nuclear disaster in California episode, and although we've already seen the following show, there was that gaping hole in our knowledge of the goings-on in TV's Washington, DC. This was especially disastrous, as we have seen every episode (by catching up on late-night cable two years ago), and this is the last season. Buying it on DVD is cheating -- we need to see it now!

For one reason or another, Kim mentioned this to her friend Amanda. Amanda lives in Minneapolis, and -- thankfully! -- is also a West Wing fan. Like us, and because she has a small child at home, she also tapes each episode. Guess what came in the mail yesterday!!!!

So we're now caught up. And Amanda totally rocks because of it. She said she didn't need the tape back, but we're thinking of sending her one of our random Tour tapes (we taped each stage live on 8-hour tapes -- I think there's 12 of them) and calling it even. She even cued up the show to the opening titles, ready to watch!

Yes, I'm a total geek. But thankfully our friends let me get away with it ...

Speaking of friends: Big shout out to Wes Hartman, who placed 3rd in the Valley of the Sun crit on Sunday! His TargetTraining team also held onto 3rd overall in the 3-stage event ...

If it's Wednesday: Still trying to recover from the weekend -- am I getting too old for air mattresses? Nah, probably just too much caffeine (Sorry Springfield!). I lifted and rode yesterday, and then this morning had a pretty good 'cross ride down at Montrose. More drills than anything else, but managed to get some laps in -- good skills training trying to avoid all the new glass down there! Big shout out (again!) to Lou, who managed to free my stripped-out seatpost bolt and adjust my brakes last night ... the Colnago is riding like a champ right now, even on clinchers!

ONLY 298 DAYS TO NATZ!!

21 February 2006

Tuesday

Crazy, crazy day today. But I did manage to catch this on Velonews this morning -- check it out for an excellent recap of Page's season. Top 10 in the Superprestige!

And why do we *always* have to be different over here?

A most remarkable season: Page wraps up his best-ever 'cross campaign

ONLY 299 DAYS TO NATZ!!

20 February 2006

Tour de Groundhog Open

My Tour de Groundhog really started on Saturday, when we woke up to the coldest weekend of winter 2006. It was 2 degrees when we were supposed to be starting the Team Mack group ride in Sprinfield! No way, Jose!

Instead, Andy and I hung out with Uncle Gary at Mack Central for a while, and then headed over to the grocery store to get supplies for the evening meal. It was a nice, relaxing way to spend the day, not really having a time schedule, and never really rushing to get anywhere ...

Eventually, Jeff, Deb from Team Kenda (also staying at Jeff's), Andy and me decided that the woods would be "warm" (relatively speaking, of course!), and headed over to New Salem. We spent about 90 minutes rolling around the hiking trails, including a very productive time checking out the Groundhog course and seeing what a difference a year makes ... gone was the drainage ditch that ate bikes alive, replaced by a gravel culvert; gone was the muddy river running down the uphill, replaced by frozen hardpack that was entirely ridable; and gone was the slushy, slimy false flat through the woods, as we railed corners and bounced off berms all along the trail. Two features did change: the second set of barriers was moved from the uphill to the end of the road section, just 50 meters before the line; and there seems to be a problem with burrowing creatures in Springfield, and the course was criss-crossed with small frozen tunnels that were hard as rocks ...

After diner, I spent some quality time using my massage stick and stretching. Then I retired to my air mattress for some heavy-duty visualization: I threw on some "angry music" and worked my way through both races, from start to finish ...

Sunday dawned bright and cold, and it was about 8 degrees by the time we got to the course to set up. Andy and I walked around putting up caution tape for a while, and then high-tailed it to town to get some much-needed warmth in the form of crappy gas station coffee. By the time we got back, registration was starting, and it was getting to be close to time to dress ...

Getting muscles to respond when the temperature is below 20 can be a challenge. Thankfully, we had the now-closed restaurant to change at, and I brought along enough hot stuff to coat myself if I wanted. I opted instead for the traditional massaging of the legs, and even threw some on my arms ... and my one concession to the cold was to tuck chemical foot warmers into my shoes, and duct-tape over the vent holes ...

I rode around the "big loop" warming up, and even got to hit the course a couple of times. It was the same as last year, only different ... because the ground was frozen, it was fast, and we were flying through the downhills. The sections by the dismounts were starting to loosen up, as was a short portion of the uphill, and the off-camber downhill was super-fast and dusty. Coupled with the aforementioned "natural" obstacles, and it was certain we were going to get a little beat up! Based on our Saturday ride, I figured lap times to be in the 4:40-5:00 range. Boy was I wrong!

One word hovered in the air at the start: RINGER! Turns out, not only had David Grohl (aka Kurt Refsnider) made the trip, but so had Nate Rice, a St. Louis-based 'crosser riding for Big Shark who fractured his wrist last year at Michigan, the first UCI race of the season. Because he couldn't ride, including skipping Portland, Nate basically was training for four months for Groundhog, his only 'cross race of the season (I found all this out later, by the way) ... We also had Jeff Schroetlin, a super-strong road TT specialist who rides for Mesa (and had done the Masters race); Brian Tober, a St. Louis-based stud who won two Groundhog events last year; the guy who took second in the Open last year; and a smattering of others. (Including one guy from Iowa who, apparently, had been talking smack about how he was going to school all of us, since he was such a hot shot. I guess he wins all the B races back home with ease ...)

We stood around freezing for a few minutes while they hid the Groundhog -- $25 goes to the rider who can find the Groundhog and get him back to the officials at the start line. In truth, I think it's really a chipmunk, but either way, this poor stuffed animal had to stand outside and hope that some crazy 'crosser wouldn't mangle him on the remount ...

We got the whistle, and I found my pedal! Wooo-hooo! Decent start, Big Shark blitzing from the outside, Schroetlin behind, Kurt next, then me. I could hear a few riders behind me, but put them out of my mind -- as I've had to learn, 'cross is all about going forward. Left turn, quick right, we're going faster than I thought possible already! Bad line, lose a bit, but catch up as Schroetlin slides on his heels into the three-pack. Kurt sees this and jumps ahead, but Nate is already on the downhill ...

Clean over the first barriers, and Kurt and Jeff take the hard inside on the off-camber left while I go right on the line I practiced yesterday. It's not horrible, but it is a mistake, and they open a slight gap over the culvert. I catch on the uphill and settle into fourth: not bad, considering the company, and I expected Kurt to pull hard to try to catch Nate, who was quickly fading into the distance.

Fast and hard around and through the trees. Quick straight, then hard left buttonhook onto the pavement. Too wide, outside the cones. Jump to get back on Schroetlin's wheel. Hunker down in the wind. Slight bump, feel the wheel bottom out. Transition coming up -- off the pavement, down into a ditch, up the other side, double barriers. Unclip left, pedal, coast, go for the dismount. KURT'S DOWN! KURT'S DOWN! Go right, jump his body, he's headfirst between the barriers. Schroetlin slides, juke left, remount -- BAM! Catch the saddle inside my thigh. OUCH!!!! Schroetlin's going, jump, jump, JUMP! I'm on him! GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO!

Hard left, too wide right but OK. Go for the dismount, almost jump off backwards -- I can't think straight. Settle, settle. Remount, Schroetlin slides, I'm clean, I'm in second! Roll the downhill, too much brakes, lay off, throw the outrigger, pull up, pedalpedalpedal, shift, stand, push, push! We've got a gap, Nate's ahead, gogogogogogogo. Lead them around for a lap, just keep going hard. Gogogogogogogogogogo.


Around the trees, turn, slide, Schroetlin comes past hard. Kurt jumps past as we head to the road. I'm OK, conserve in the wind. Use them, stay close. Into the ditch, Schroetlin is sliding into the barrier again, trying to maintain his footing. Over, just barely, remount OK. Schroetlin and Kurt throw outriggers into the woods; I go a bit wide, small gap. Jam to catch back on, almost miss the right-hander. Clean over the barriers, flying down the hill, jump the uphill ... and Kurt sits up. What the?!?!?!? Must be a flat, GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO!!!!!

I'm in third. OK. Schroetlin is jamming. Maybe he'll tire because of the Masters race. My chance will come. Ride hard, keep pushing. He's getting a gap. Crap. Steady through the barriers. Throw the outrigger, try the inside line on the downhill. Easy over the gravel. Jam the hills. JAMJAMJAMJAMJAM.

Laps counting down. Three to go. I'm CLOSING ON HIM! There he is! I'm gaining! Jump hard through the start/finish. Gary yelling something about $5 to catch him. I'm gonna do it, gonna get him. Lappers. TRACK LEFT! TRACK LEFT! Schroetlin slides through the barriers again; careful, easy footing. More Lapped traffic. TRACK RIGHT! TRACK RIGHT (DAMNIT)! (Wait! That's Brian Tober! I'm lapping Tober? That can't be right! [turns out he had flatted]) Clean, into the downhill, lay off the brakes, JUMP! JUMP! JUMP! He's right there! Schroetlin crashed on the downhill! Now's my chance! Shift up, get ready to climb ...

CRAP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

OK, rear flat. Through the soft stuff on the uphill. I'm OK. Only a little slide. Thump. Roll with it. Gogogogogogogo. Thump. Watch the ditch ... uh. Thump. That was close. Thump. Tober's coming through. Thump. He's got to know it's a flat. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Easy through the right. Thump. Easy onto the pavement. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. That's a big gap. Crap. I had my chance. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.

Easy, easy into the barriers. Up and over, hit the pit. Drop the bike -- woops! -- grab the Cannondale. Who the hell brings a pit bike to Groundhog? OK, remount. JAM! GO! STAND! $150 TO CATCH SCHROETLIN! GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO!

Two to go. Schroetlin is gone. Be smart, be safe. Relax. Breathing under control. You're in third, still a chance at the overall. Conserve for the Classic race. Go hard. TRACK RIGHT! TRACK LEFT! CRAP! Don't dismount on the best line up the hill! Dumbass! OK, you're fine, just chill. Lap and a half to go. Pump the berms. Out over the pavement lip. Go hard, push it, push it ...

The bell. One to go. Almost home, third place locked up. Steady through the barriers, follow Tober down the hill. Good shift, on his wheel climbing. Up and over, TRACK LEFT! Thanks man. Cruise control, you've got it going on. Ready to go for the Classic, still have a chance for the wheelset prize in the omnium. Roll it, Tober is gone. Whew. Nice wide turn to the pavement, up and over ...

crunchcrunchcrunchcrunchcrunchcrunchcrunch ... WhyisTobertryingtopassinthegravelnexttotheroadIlappedhim

OHSHITIT'SNOTTOBERIT'SKURTSHITSHITSHITSHITSHIT!!!!!

And I finished fourth. Kurt had ridden his flat to the pit, changed up, and gotten back out, catching me with 150 meters and one two-pack to go. I was within 5 meters of second place when I flatted, and instead I wasn't even on the podium.

I was pissed. I was mad. I was coughing up a lung, and wasn't sure I wanted to race again. I gave grief to Kim, and then to some of my teammates, for not giving me a heads up that Kurt was back in the race and chasing fast. I changed my wheels around, still trying to breathe, copping some major attitude toward anyone unfortunate enough to be within 5 feet of me. I contemplated riding away, saying to hell with the Classic and the damn Omnium. I got fourth. Shit.

And it was all my fault. First, I ran my rear tire too low for the conditions. A bit more pressure, and I may not have flatted. Or I may have, I'll never know. But I learned from it.

And I got conservative. On the road, you sometimes need to go "easy" while going hard in order prepare for the next event. But this is 'cross. It's all about going all-out, all the time, in a sort of out-of-control experiment with the edges of consciousness. I backed down, and I got sloppy. And I screwed myself because of it. But I learned from it.

All in all, it really was a good race for me. I think this is the first time I didn't get lapped by the UCI racer in residence, and quite honestly I was surprised by being in the mix in a 'cross race with at least a little depth. I started the race with absolutely no fear, and it felt good to be duking it out with Kurt and Schroetlin, leaving everyone except Nate in the dust. The Iowa guy was nowhere to be found, and the lap times? We finished the 10 laps in 39 minutes and change. Now that's a fast race.

Tour de Groundhog Classic


After a few minutes to chill out, change wheels, and find a happy place in my head, I decided to go for the Classic anyway. I honestly thought the guy who won the Open wasn't going to race the Classic (as happened last year), so I would at least be on the Omnium podium ... wrong again, as Nate pointed out on the start line ... Oh, well. I'm here, it's cold, I'll do my best! I did discover that my seatpost had slipped, and subsequently stripped the inside of the bolt head trying to adjust it. Dumbass!

We had 16 guys for the Classic! This is the 'cross-bikes-only race that closes out the Groundhog event, and makes for a good way to start/end the season. All four of the top finishers from the Open were on the line, along with a smattering of others and a lot of Mack guys -- including Andy, Darryl (running some sweet Tufo file treads on his Rev-Xs), and Robert Kron, back for more on his road bike ...

I was more than a little nervous running the rear Zipp from Lou with the Vittoria tire -- the rim tape was coming off a bit and rubbed on the brakes each time it went around, and I wasn't as confident on the tires as I should have been. I did pump it up a bit more, so I knew I had to be at least a little careful on the downhill. But I was ready, and was interested to see how my body (and mind!) would respond.

Three ... Two ... One ... Bill's son blew the whistle, and we were off! Nate and Kurt jumped hard, with Schroetlin behind, and DAMN! Missed my pedal. Keep it up, keep it up ... settle into fifth behind Knudsen (from Turin), stay with Schroetlin. Into the barriers, and jump around him hard ... OK, fourth place, right on Jeff's wheel.

Crap. Nate and Kurt are opening a gap. They're FLYING! First lap, they've got 7 seconds. Through the start/finish, stay on his wheel, use him, use him. Top of the hill, I'm gassed. Keep with him but don't be stupid. Pushpushpush. Onto the pavement. Damn he can go fast. Tuck in, keep it steady, gogogogogo. Watch it, he's sliding into the barriers, keep it clean ...

Through and around. Kurt and Nate out of sight. Into the next barriers, WOOPS! That was a nasty slide. Remount, into the drops. HOLYCRAPHE'SCRAZY!!! Schroetlin executes a sideways, two-wheel slide that I cannot duplicate, and opens a 2-second gap at the base of the hill. I shift, but not enough, and bog myself down, unable to get enough momentum to match his pace.

That was the race, and Schroetlin disappeared up the trail. Using the knowledge gained in the Open, I kept the pressure on, making sure to make clean moves but constantly pushing to gain an advantage. At the top of the hill I was almost blind, unable to see more than 12 inches in front of my front wheel -- it may be only February, but I was digging deep to keep going as fast as I could.

Coming through with two to go -- is that him? It's orange! It's him! STANDJUMPJUMPJUMPJUMPJUMP! You can catch him! Throw the outrigger, clean clip-in (finally!), into the right-hander, unclip, barriers, hit the downhill. THERE HE IS! Maybe 10 seconds. Not very far. AND I'M GAINING! GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO!

Up on the pavement, not close enough, both fighting the wind. Over the barriers, get the bell, rail the corner, GOGOGOGOGOGOGO! Stand, push, down, unclip. Jump! Jump! Jump! Remount, clean, he's right there ... I can get him ...

And in the end, it was a lap too short. Schroetlin was fading fast, but had just enough in the last half lap to maintain a 2-3-second gap on me, and he hit the last barriers clean to take the final podium spot. So I settled for my second fourth place, and fourth place overall. I am sorely disappointed, but at the same time take some solace in the fact that I raced better than I've ever raced a 'cross race in my life, and I learned a lot. Not too bad for an off-season, out-of-the-way, small race huh?

And all in all, I had fun. I'm angry I didn't win. I'm mad I didn't get on the podium. But I enjoyed volunteering, and hanging out, and need to say a big thanks to Gary and Sharmin and the rest of the Mack crew for a great race weekend. Jeff and Tammy are excellent hosts, and Kim and are really glad we got down there for a low-key beginning/end of the season. Even if I didn't bring home the V. (Kurt won, by the way.)

Anyway, on the way home I was tired but glowing in the post-race way, rehashing it all for Andy and Kim (and Steve and Robert on the phone). My legs started to stiffen up just a bit, and my inner right upper thigh (read: groin area) was getting swollen by the minute from the botched remount in the Open ... Oh! and I discovered what was missing from my racing:

This incredible hand dryer is located at Pete's, Exit 220 in Dwight, Illinois. I've never seen anything like the Xlerator, and if I could push as much air as this does, I would have won every race, even the ones I didn't enter! At the same time, it was kind of freaky to see my skin and veins move around in very strange positions ...

Lest we forget

The front-page photo from today's Springfield Journal-Register kind of puts all the race talk into perspective. Bill Jensen, the memory of whom Groundhog has been dedicated to the past two years, was a Team Mack member who died in a skydiving accident. His wife and children have become part of the Groundhog family. Last year I was able to bring home the victory for Karen and the family.

http://www.sj-r.com/frontpages/022006Page1.pdf

Groundhog Phlog

Semi-random stuff from the Groundhog weekend in Springfield ... race reports to come ...

These are the Groundhog Gimp Twins, ripping it up as Head Cheerleader and Head Volunteer at the start/finish during the Open race. Steve Driscoll (Head Cheerleader) is on the left, just 48 hours removed from a surgery to, well, remove three screws that were holding his leg together. He was getting around pretty well out there! And he was LOUD ... we have reports from the nearby Mountain Lion sanctuary that Steve's voice could be heard nearly 800 meters away ...

On the right is Uncle Gary, getting around pretty well himself two weeks after ripping the head off his femur. True to form, he was offering "catch the rider in front of you" primes, the value of which changed each lap depending on how close you were! (One one lap, he offered me $5 to catch Jeff Schroetlin; on the next, after I flatted and had to change bikes, it went up to $150; finally, at the bell, as I was creeping back up, it dropped down to $15 ...)

To the right is a shot of Robert Kron (left) and Jeff Williams (right), two superstars of the weekend. Kron is a never-say-die competitor who can't let any race pass him by -- and so, devoid of a 'cross bike (or for that matter 'cross experience), mounted up his Team Mack Waterford with 24cc Vittoria Paves and hit the trail for the Open and the Classic ... I was sliding around on my 32cc tires, I can't imagine what he was doing!

Jeff is a great guy, and was very generous to let a bunch of crazy bikers crash at his house on Friday and Saturday evenings. We also finally got to listen to a CD from his band, nil8 -- WOW. These guys rock! It's a funny case of a person's music not exactly being in tune with the personality of the performer ... Jeff is one of the most laid back, easy-going people I know!

Here is Andy, in his first race wearing Team Mack colors ... he had a great weekend, and has come a long way since Montrose in his riding and 'cross racing ...
Here's a fun shot of me on the homestraight -- gotta' love advertising!


And finally, here it is ... just moments before the maiden voyage, the new ride pimped and ready to go! Fast!
All in all, it was a pretty cool weekend. It was especially gratifying when, at the end of the Classic, as I sucked wind and tried not to cough up a lung, this guy in a U of I jersey pulls up to me. "You Chris Strout?" "Um, yeah (cough, cough)." "I thought so. I just wanted to tell you that you're the reason I'm here." "Huh? (hack, hack)" "Yeah, I read your article [in Chicago Athlete], and I decided that this 'cross thing sounds kind of fun, so I came down here!" "Wow, really? Where are you from?" "Union!"

This guy drove 4 hours for an out-of-season, out-of-the-way race, ridden in 16-degree temps, all because he read about 'cross in a free magazine back home. That is so cool! He didn't care about his finishes, didn't care about the results. He just wanted to get out and have fun. I was pretty disappointed in the results (more on that later), but that really put it all in perspective.

ONLY 300 DAYS TO NATZ!!

18 February 2006

Two

It's 8:30 a.m. in Springfield, and weather.com is reporting that it's 2 degrees outside. The Team Mack ride starts in 30 minutes, and it's a 10-minute ride away ... nobody around here is even remotely moving toward their clothing or bicycles. Two degrees!!!!!!

Actually, we'll probably end up doing a 'cross ride out in the woods sometime today, or -- god forbid -- have a "trainer party" in Geoff's basement. Either way, I will put in a bit of time, but not when it's only 2!

ONLY 302 (there's that number again!) DAYS TO NATZ!!

17 February 2006

This is the story 'bout a man named Jed ...

Anyone know what's the weight limit on a 2002 Subaru Outback? We once had it loaded with four people, three bikes and assorted gear, but that was with the pod on the roof rack ...

I've figured out that we'll be on the ground in Springfield for all of 42 hours. That encompasses two nights of sleep, two breakfasts, one team group road ride, an afternoon spent chilling out, one dinner, a morning spent setting up, and one off-season cyclocross race. So you'd think we could pack at least a little light, right?

Well, no ... add in my anal nature when it comes to racing, and the fact that it just happens to be the coldest weekend of meteoroligical winter, with the largest 5-day temperature drop in 42 years, and what do you get?

  • Two Team Mack riders/racers
  • One all-around great lady/race volunteer/pit crew/awesome wife
  • Three cyclocross bikes
  • One road bike
  • Two sets of tubular 'cross wheels (Zipps w/ Vittorias and Mavics w/ Tufos)
  • Two sets of clincher 'cross wheels (Mavic Open Pros and whatever OEM is on Andy's bike)
  • One set of clincher road wheels (Andy's)
  • One extra set of clincher road tires (Vittoria Pave)
  • Two sets of clincher 'cross tires (Maxxis Larsen Mimos and Michelin Mudds)
  • One air pump
  • One trainer, front wheel block, sweat guard and towel
  • One extra trainer tire and tube
  • Three magazines
  • Two sets of winter riding tights
  • One long-sleeved skinsuit
  • Two heavy undershirts, two lighter undershirts
  • One heavy winter jacket, one wind jacket
  • One winter jersey
  • One pair of cyclocross shoes, with two sets of toe spikes plus extra battery-heated insoles
  • Six pairs of socks: two team, two heavy, two mid-weight
  • Four pairs of gloves: one heavy, two medium, one team (plus three sets of surgical gloves)
  • Four pieces of headgear: two balaclavas (one light, one heavy), two hats
  • One helmet
  • One heart rate monitor and strap
  • Two full sets of chemical heat packs (hands and feet)
  • Two bottles of embrocation
  • One tube of Chamois Butt'r
  • One bottle of tums
  • One bag of medical equipment
  • One container of Wet Ones, one of baby wipes, one of Huggies Wipes
  • Four rags
  • One spray bottle of degreaser
  • Two bottles of lube
  • One container of safety pins
  • Various tools and a mini-pump
  • One gallon water jug
  • One bag of food and food/drink preparation stuff (including coffee prep stuff!)
  • Four water bottles
  • One bag of toiletries
  • One small bag of casual clothes
  • Bedding, a pillow, and air mattresses

And what I haven't mentioned is that, except for the two bikes and two of the wheel sets, all this is mine. I haven't factored in any of Andy's or Kim's stuff! I can't see out the back window, and we're not even done loading!

Good thing those Team Mack bags are supersized!

ONLY 303 DAYS TO NATZ!!

16 February 2006

48 hours to Groundhog

OK, now I'm getting excited. 48 hours from now I'll be halfway through the second of two races at Groundhog. Yippee!

We're not all that different after all

From the Associated Press:

Iran Renames Danish Pastries

No sh*t, Sherlock

It's nice to know that sometimes the truth prevails. Too bad it takes such a long time.

http://www.cyclingnews.com/news.php?id=news/2006/feb06/feb16news2

Overgeared

I was reading a blog the other day about the phenomenon of so-called "Pro Bs" in cyclocross. The author sort of just pointed out that many of the Bs are running better gear than the pros, but doesn't really make any judgments about it.

That, plus Adam's comment in Transition, plus a conversation I had at Natz with a fellow Midwesterner, got me thinking: Am I in over my head with this? I'm guessing there are a few of my fellow competitors who, behind my back, may be having a blast poking fun at me and calling me "poseur." I mean, who the heck doesn't podium in a local race and then lines up at Elite Natz? Who springs for a new ride, setting up a totally pimped-out rig, based on dreams but no results? But then again, all the girls say I'm pretty fly (for a white guy).

It was a little embarrassing at the Illinois Championships that they kept announcing my impending trip to Providence, even as I slowly lost ground to Gatto and Silvia, not to mention Sachs, Williamson, Conant and Kuhn. Especially because on another (read: dryer) day, I might have been fighting Lou instead, chasing a podium spot.

I feel a little better after last weekend's trip to Palos -- at a certain level, I can see that some of the work is starting to pay off. I have a long way to go, but I'm hoping I'll see at least some baby steps forward this weekend at Groundhog ... enough, at least, to feel like I'm doing the right things! The reality is, I want those UCI points more than any goal I've set for myself in the recent past, so I want to be sure I'm doing what I need to do to get there!

And the truth of the matter is, even if everyone around me isn't thinking I'm a joke, I'm going to imagine that they are -- for me, it's motivation. Until I have focused on it, and given 'cross the same due that I've given the road for the past few years, I can't make any judgments about whether I'm worthy or not … no one can. That's what's so exciting about 'cross, much more so than the road -- anything can happen, on any given day. Road events are much more predictable, but 'cross keeps you on the edge of your saddle … from one minute to the next, you never know what's around the bend.

So am I over my head? Maybe. Only time will tell. But in the meantime, I'm going to spend the next 7 months preparing to ride as fast as I can once the leaves start falling. My skills with a bowstaff will only improve, so watch out at next year's elections!


ONLY 304 DAYS TO NATZ!!

15 February 2006

Sometimes things just don't go as planned

Sorry for the lack of posting this week -- things have been a bit "difficult" in a couple of areas. But what's the off-season for, except to get sick and experience job stress? Better now than in October!

Yes, the cold finally got me. It's all my fault -- I rested a bit extra last week, but then didn't really rest over the weekend, opting instead for the Palos ride and a long road day on Sunday. I know my body is trying to recover, and recovering from cycling and illness isn't a smart thing, but I'm trying the "blow it out of your system" approach. It seems to be working, albeit slowly ...

And this week at work has been a real hum-dinger. Things are changing on a daily basis, and getting into any sort of routine has been tough -- I hope I don't sound like I'm complaining; on the contrary, I'm the one who signed up for this! But it does keep things interesting!

Training is going OK despite the cold -- taking it a bit easier than scheduled, and skipped my weight lifting session on Monday. Today was good, got down to Montrose and managed to get in some good drills ... still preparing to rock on Sunday!

ONLY 305 DAYS TO NATZ!!

13 February 2006

"Light Bike 8"

Awesome! If you haven't seen the PlusOneLap blog, check this out ... the new bike has made the cut!

http://plusonelap.blogspot.com/2006/02/light-cyclocross-bike-8-chris-colnago.html

ONLY 307 DAYS TO NATZ!!

12 February 2006

No compromises

I've always said "give me Japanese precision over Italian craftmanship any day" when it comes to bike componentry. I'm a Shimano guy, and have never been able to figure out how Campy gets tuned, or for that matter how to make it work right.

But when it comes to beauty on a bike, the Italians definitely know their stuff. I always had a thing for the De Rosa name and heart logo, the Celeste shine of a vintage Bianchi, or the cloverleaf that adorns World-Champion Colnagos. So when Lou and I began talking about a new 'cross ride, making the Cannondale a pit bike, it didn't take much arm twisting on his part to get me interested in a Colnago Scandium Cross ...

... and so now, less than four months after I pretty much swore off cyclocross forever, I present to you the ride that will take me to the hallowed ground of UCI 'cross rankings!

It is indeed a Colnago Scandium Cross, size 60cm, in white with red and blue highlights (Colnago color NS06). I could have gone safely with the all-black coloring similar to the C-50 Carbon Cross, but I figured this was my one shot at extravagance -- and if I'm riding a white bike, I had better be fast, right?

I dove in with guns blazing on this, the only bike I've ever owned for which I have made no compromises. All my other rides have one thing or another that I chose because of circumstances -- be it availability, or sponsorship or some other pressure -- but for this, I was bound and determined to build it my way. And I couldn't be happier!

This is my pimp ride; at 17.6lbs, it's 2kg lighter than the Cannondale! And it handles like a dream ... a Dream Cross maybe? Seriously, though, already I can say it's one of the best investments I've ever made in my cycling habit ...

Frame: Colnago Scandium Cross 60cm
Fork: Colnago Cross
Headset: Chris King 1-1/8, blue
Stem: Ritchey WCS 120mm
Bar: Ritchey WCS 44cm
Shifter Right: Dura Ace 7700
Brake lever left: Cane Creek
Wheels: Mavic Reflex Ceramic laced to Dura Ace hubs, 32 spoke
Tires: Tufo Elites
Crank: Truvativ Rouleur Cyclocross 175mm with FSA 44-tooth ring and Salsa ring guard
BB: Truvativ Giga X Pipe
Pedals: Crank Bros Candy C
(stolen from my Kim -- I will run Candy ti or Candy sl in colors that match the frame for races)
Chain: SRAM PC-89R Hollow Pin
Cassette: SRAM PC-970 12-26
Rear Derailleur: Dura Ace 7800
Brakes: Avid Shorty 6 with Avid Tri Dangles
(Lou even painted them white!)

Seatpost: Ritchey WCS
Saddle: Selle San Marco Aspide

Total weight: 17.6lbs/8.03kg
Pedals should take off another 50 grams ... not bad for a 60cm frame!


A big shout out to Lou and the guys at the Pony Shop for such an awesome job on the build -- especially after I dented my ring guard and pushed around the chain guide when I biffed at Palos! And to SRAM/Truvativ/Avid for coming out with great product to challenge the Big Two -- it's awesome having them as a sponsor for Team Mack!

ONLY 308 DAYS TO NATZ!!!

11 February 2006

Palos!

Today was the day I've been waiting for ever since I decided that off-road riding was for me ... my first ever trip to the Palos Forest Preserve! Palos is talked about by local mountain bikers in revered tones, and its 50 miles of singletrack would provide the perfect escape from the salted roads of Chicago!

We've been waiting a couple of weeks to head down there, as the weather has been so mild that we didn't want to tear up the trails if they were muddy. But this week saw overnight lows down into the 20s, and a predicted low of 18 on Friday night ... so today was the day! Lou sent out an email early in the week, and a few of us answered the call ...

Just 45 minutes from Evanston, Palos offers sweet singletrack; some old, broken up pavement; some widetrack; and a whole lot of roots and trees to hop over. (A detailed description is available on the CAMBR web site, under Trail Guide --> Illinois.) I rolled out of Chicago with Andy at 6 a.m., and we caught up to Lou and Chris Mosk on I-55 just before the exit. As we were getting ready, Mark Winston rolled up; then, just as we were about to go, Jerry O and Ted (Andy's cousin) drove in. Five minutes later, and we were ripping!

It was absolutely unreal. Unlike anything I had ever experienced -- most of us were on 'cross bikes, which probably slowed us down a bit but made for excellent handling practice. We headed out around Bullfrog Lake, dropped into Red Gate Woods, and I think we made our way along Turf 1 to Psycho Path, but I could be wrong. Somehow or other, we did end up hitting 3 Ravines -- until that point, I was doing OK hanging onto Lou and Mosk, both accomplished MTBers -- through the ravines, though, my inexperience at fast downhills began to show, and I lost the wheel. Not too bad, but I was definitely trying to play catch up!

At one point, I was following Mosk down a hardpack ridge when a giant log appeared in the path ... Chris cleared it easily as I went for a 'cross dismount -- woops! The ground was still semi-frozen, and I carried a lot more speed than I anticipated ... when my shoes didn't grab, I shot head-first into the jump, my new bike somersaulting through the air over my head! I've got a few welts on my leg and my white beauty (photos soon!) has a few new blemishes, but all in all, no major damage.

It definitely pays to ride with guys who are a lot more experienced than me -- just watching Mosk use the trail and terrain was an abject lesson in everything I've missed by being so focused on the road. I had a few bobbles where I lost their wheel, but all in all it wasn't too bad, and I definitely learned a lot as we worked our way around the twists and turns!

The day took a bit of a turn after about 90 minutes of riding -- Lou and Mosk had to get home, leaving Ted and I to try to find Andy and Jerry, who had missed a turn. Eventually we all hooked up, and headed back out -- the trails up by Bullfrog were still dry, although Lou warned me that "they turn quickly ..."

And turn they did, as the day suddenly hit 38 degrees with some sun. We were in good shape as we headed back over to Stair Steps, until we got ahead of Ted, who missed the turn to Turf 1. All of a sudden, we were backtracking and trying to find him, as he led us out back through 3 Ravines. Another rider told us he was up ahead, and we dropped into the second ravine ...

... where I noticed that my rear wheel was going soft. Crap! We were at basically the furthest point from the cars, with the trails turning to mush around us. I pretty much had one choice -- and that 1/2 hour run with 3x hill repeats that I skipped on Thursday? Yeah. Been there, done that. In cycling shoes. Pushing a 17.5lb bike. Or shouldering it. Or suitcasing. It was a long way back!

So I have to get a new rear tire, and my new ride has a couple of small paint dings that weren't there yesterday. But Palos was an absolute blast, and as I watch the lake-effect snow fall outside my window, I'm trying to figure out when I can get back there ...

ONLY 309 DAYS TO NATZ!!

10 February 2006

Groundhog!


The Tour de Groundhog is a fun event -- February is definitely the "off-season," but what's wrong with bashing through the forest for an hour on a cold afternoon?

This is last year's course, which was run backwards to previous editions, as I understand it.
Black = Start/finish, direction
Light blue = Doubletrack/grass (long false flat on the right side of the map)
Red = Triple-barrier set
Orange = Fun, quick descent
Magenta = Wicked, muddy uphill, with a ...
Brown = Log jump
Royal blue = Big mud puddle
Yellow = Road section

The course is longer than the map looks, but Google doesn't seem to have a fine resolution on their satelite images of New Salem.

Anyway, last year's event was awesome, a horrible mud-soaked affair that tested skill and speed. I managed a 3rd in the Senior Open and a win in the Classic to place 2nd in the Omnium behind Brian Tober -- a strong St. Louis-based 'crosser with years of experience. Paul got some great photos of the event -- yes, it was that wet and muddy!

I tried to wash off my bike in the Sangamon River after the race, but thankfully found a power-wash in Petersburg instead just before the drive home. It was quite a day!

I'm really looking forward to this year's event -- I'm not training as much as last year, so I may not be in with a chance to win, but this will be the racing debut of my new ride and a chance to really try out all the skills I've been working on in the past couple of weeks. And the field looks stacked this year! What better way to spend an afternoon than to flail around in front of family and teammates?!?!

Happy birthday to: The legendary Steve Tilford, who turns something like 105 today. This guy is beyond incredible -- 2-time Masters World MTB Champ, 5+-time National Cyclocross Champion, and the first-ever NORBA National Champ in 1983 ... in his first MTB race! It's a sure bet when he shows up to our regional road and 'cross races that it's going to be a hard day!

ONLY 310 DAYS TO NATZ!!

09 February 2006

Groundhog's getting interesting!

Just heard from Dave Grohl, aka Kurt Refsnider, that he may be coming down to Springpatch for the Groundhog! Kurt, as you may recall, is a super-fast 'cross racer who had one of the best local amateur showings at Natz in December ... oh, and he is a rock star too!


On the left is a photo of the Foo Fighter's lead singer, David Grohl. On the right is a photo of Kurt Refsnider, lifted from the UW-Madison Geology page. I don't know about you, but I've never seen these "two" people in the same place at the same time!

This means that Grounhog is going to be super-fast -- not sure the last time our Team Mack race had a racer line up who had earned UCI points the year before! (To be fair, Jim Holmes was there a couple of years back, but I don't think he had UCI points at the time.)

And, just in case it wasn't already going to be a fun, fast event -- I hear Brian Conant may be making an appearance as well! Conant, you may recall, is one of the medalists from the Illinois State Championship at Montrose Harbor last year, and a podium finisher at the 35+ Bs race at Natz ...

I was looking for a photo of Brian, but came across this instead ... I didn't know Brian was a world-famous inventor! Be sure to read the story about how he came to "discover" the Flatulence Deodorizer ...

Both Brian and David (Kurt) downplay their chances ... "Just started training again," they say. "No intensity since Rhode Island." The Groundhog course isn't super-technical (map tomorrow maybe), but it can be tricky and has a long-ish power section -- so we'll see next weekend! Expect Brian Tober, a St. Louis-based 'cross stud, to be there too ... This is going to be quite a field!

Strike Three

Well, it looks like today is going to be that very rare complete day off from training. It wasn't supposed to be -- I had a nice short run with a couple of hill repeats planned, plus a bit of riding in zone 2. When the snow came down yesterday, that meant a morning run and a some time on the trainer tonight ...

... But instead I'm instituting the "three strike" rule. Last week, when I was working on dialing in the new bike, I bunged up my knee just a bit -- it's a common problem with me, I need to make sure I'm darn near 100% set up every time I get on a new ride. Unfortunately this time, I didn't realize how off I was! It's not a big deal, just calls for some icing here and there, and I'm be fine -- but that was strike one.

Then, my dentist called, and told me that my new insurance had finally worked itself out, and could I come in on Thursday at 5:30 to get the hole in my tooth fixed temporarily as he measured me for a crown? Sure, no problem! But that was strike two ...

The strikeout came yesterday, after my awesome ride down to Montrose. I put in a bit of work in zone 3, and felt great -- until later yesterday morning. That's when my head decided to get a bit congested, and start to drag me down a little ... it doesn't seem like it will be that big of a deal, but I skipped my weightlifting session just in case and managed to get more than 10 hours of sleep last night. I'm nuking the heck out of it, drowning myself in decaf tea and decongestants -- no way do I want this thing to seep into my lungs a week before Groundhog. But it's definitely strike three, and today will be a day of rest!

We had a couple of rough nights of sleeping in the past week, that, coupled with the excitement of the new bike (and the subsequent "extra" ride) and a bit of stress at work, put me at greater risk for a bug ... and now I just want to kill it and move on! Knock wood (and I found a lucky penny at work this morning), this will just be a minor blip, hardly registering on the radar. This is only the second lifting session I've cancelled this winter, so the consistency is definitely there -- it just sucks when you have to re-jigger your schedule because of "real" life.

Happy birthday to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Christina Miller. OK, not "oldest," but we've known each other for 20 years ... it's amazing how time flies! I hope Tom, Brodie and the girls (twins!) take good care of her today!

ONLY 311 DAYS TO NATZ!!

08 February 2006

Go J-Lo!

A BIG CONGRATS to Mack rider Jaime Lopez -- who, after "4 years, a broken collarbone, 3 concussions and a lot of lost skin" has been upgraded to Cat. 3! J-Lo is one of the reasons Mack is such a great program -- guys like him who race hard and have fun supporting others are hard to come by!

That broken collarbone was pretty epic -- coming into the final of a road race in Wisconsin, Jaime sheared the fork off his Team Mack Waterford in a pileup. It was heinous! Check out the Team Mack web site for a pic -- click on Photos, and go to the 2004 Photo Archive. Then, to make matters worse, the local-yokel hospital didn't know how to treat road rash, and over-diagnosed the collarbone as being a "compound" (breaking the skin) fracture! So Jaime was shuttled up to Madison, where we found him after going from hospital to hospital ... thankfully his ER doc in Madtown was a cyclist! (Oh, and then he drove home the next day -- in a stick-shift car! This man is an animal!)

It'll be fun to watch Jaime and the rest of the 3s tear it up this year, and maybe he can convince me to do some 30+ races?

ONLY 312 DAYS TO NATZ!!

Happy Birthday!

Happy birthday to my Sweetheart!

It started off kind of rough when the backup batteries of two of our three smoke detectors decided to die ... one at 2:30 a.m., and then the other an hour later, after we had taken down the first one! We finally just unplugged all of them -- ouch!

Since Kim has school tonight, we celebrated early, last night, with homemade turkey-tofu-green pepper-onion-zuccini-three cheese marinara pizza, yummy!

HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO KIM!!!!

07 February 2006

Let the smack begin

If there's one thing cyclists are good for, it's talking smack. I hear there's $50 and an ice cream cone on the line if I can pull off the double at Groundhog -- that's the Senior Open and the Classic race, thereby taking the omnium prize in the process.

I work best on negative psychology -- tell me I can't do something, and I'm all over it. So I'm staying away from the positive thinkers for the next 12 days -- I'll let Gary and Steve beat me down and tell me there's no way it's gonna happen ...

... and in the meantime, I rode zone 2 this morning on the new bike, and was just 5 seconds off my best training time on the Montrose course, with basically no effort. I gotta tell you, the ride is FAST! Photos coming soon ...

Do we really need to rate it?

There was an interesting editorial in the Chicago Tribune yesterday about developing a ratings system for snowstorms. I've got to ask, is it really necessary?

See, I love remembering the "Blizzard of '79." Just the name conjures up images of snow stacked to the 2nd story of my childhood home, sledding out the bedroom window, tunnelling completely around the house. Massive snowball fights, leaps off the back deck ...

I just don't think it will be the same if we start rating them. Do I care that it's a "Category 5" blizzard? Not really. Especially with the accuracy that seems to be lacking in today's weather forecasters, when you apply the Snow Prediction Formula®, whereby Actual Snowfall = Lowest Worst-Case Prediction minus 2in. They just can't seem to get it right, and I don't want to hear about threatened "Cat. 5" snowstorms, only to have them emerge as a "Cat. 3!"

In case you missed it:


Just a really big snowstorm
Published February 6, 2006

We measure many of our most dramatic weather events on long-familiar scales. Most of us know what Category 5 means for hurricanes, or F5 for tornadoes.

Hurricanes even get names. Category 5 hurricanes like Camille in 1969 and Andrew in 1992 sustain higher winds and cause more damage than a Category 3 like Katrina--unless, that is, New Orleans' levees fail. The twister that hit suburban Plainfield in 1990 was an F5, the top of the scale, and more lethal than an F2.

But if 20 inches of snow falls here, all the weather folks can say is: "That was a really big snowstorm." Snow doesn't have a severity nomenclature. Granted, the Grand Forks Herald started naming North Dakota blizzards back in 1990--Arnie, Berta, Chester and Dagmar were the first four--but that trend never caught on.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is ending this neglect. But don't hold your breath, Chicago. The East Coast benefits first. NOAA launched its first snow index last week: the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale. It will rank storms from Category 1 (notable) to Category 5 (extreme). The rankings will be based on snowfall amounts and the population density of the affected area. If 3 feet of snow falls in the middle of nowhere, who cares? But if that much snow falls from Washington to Boston, millions would be stuck. That surely would rank as a Category 5.

The Great Lakes states, the Southeast and the Mountain West will get localized scales that reflect the relative impact of similar storms in each region: Four inches of snow might cripple Atlanta and the Southeast, while barely registering in Chicago or Detroit.

So to pull all of this together: If New York or Boston gets hit by a really big snowstorm in February, it will go into the NOAA records as, maybe, a Category 3 (major) or Category 4 (crippling). Can't you hear Uncle Morty from Hoboken boast of his heroic survival?

But if Chicago gets hit with a really big snowstorm in February, it will be ... just a really big snowstorm. Start your shovels.

ONLY 313 DAYS TO NATZ!!

06 February 2006

Countdown to Hillsboro

Kelly Sparks helped make me who I am today.

He may not know it. In fact, probably doesn't. And any of you who know Kelly, and know me, may be really surprised to hear it. Really surprised.

But next time I'm chasing you down on the 'cross course, or coming after you on the roads of Hillsboro, thank Kelly. Or blame him, if I manage to catch you!

Here's what happened: Last August, Track Nationals for Masters (30-and-over) were in Indianapolis. I was suffering from some pretty severe road burnout, but against my better judgment decided to try to compete anyway. I had been dealing with family issues 2 years before in Kenosha, and I wanted to at least do better than that down in Hoosierland.

I got down to Indy on Tuesday afternoon to take advantage of open track time. My first event, the 3km Individual Pursuit, was at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning. I hung out in the entry way of the stadium, waiting for the officials to arrive, before finally getting my credentials and heading inside. I put my stuff down, got on my bike …

… and almost crapped my pants. I have never -- and I mean never -- been so scared on a bicycle. The banked, concrete track is set up exactly like Kenosha, except that Kenosha is asphalt and has smooth transitions. Indy is wavy, a bit rough, and the transition to the apron is a dramatic drop with a nice drainage culvert running around it. I rolled around for an hour, and called Kim from the parking lot in tears. I was that freaked out, only 17 hours before I was supposed to compete.

She talked me down from the ledge, and I was able to relax enough to hang out with my teammate Jaime, who was putting me up for the night. J-Lo and I found a great place to eat, and he was super-cool about me crashing at his place -- I have to admit, having a friendly face to talk to made a huge difference -- if I had been on my own, I would have come home.

Anyway, I decided that since I had paid the entry fee (see: Is Your Life Worth $40?), I might as well race. I got to the stadium early, got set up, and hopped on the bike.

This is where Kelly comes in. I was rolling around, feeling very nervous (but better than Tuesday), and just generally trying to get my bearings straight. Kelly, on the other hand, was in heaven -- he'd been preparing for that week his whole year (heck, his whole cycling career). He rides up next to me with a big smile:

"It's Christmas!"

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"Today is Christmas Day for me!" And he rode off.

In that instant, I understood what it means to peak for an event mentally. What it means to be so focused on one race that nothing else can compare. What it means to focus all your energy into ONE THING, and one thing only.

And in that instant, I decided to retire from track racing.

See, as Kelly was celebrating being there, finally competing in "his" event, I was hating every second I spent on the track. I was still scared out of my mind, I couldn't hold a line to save my life, and that culvert beckoned my front wheel in a sort of sick siren song of promised pain. He was in paradise, I was in purgatory.

And it occurred to me: I don't like racing on the track. Never really have. It's always just been an "extra" to me -- a long, long Tuesday night at Kenosha (which is a fun place to race, I'll admit), or racing in the political minefield that is Thursday at Northbrook. I don't like short events. I don't like hanging around. I don't like waiting to race. I just want to get out there and do it!

Racing on the track would never be Christmas for me. I was done.

On the drive home that afternoon, I thought long and hard about what I really do care about in bike racing. I care about working with my teammates to get a result. I care about pushing myself to the highest level I possibly can. I care about exploring my own limits, and seeing whether they stack up. And I do care about certain events.

Hillsboro-Roubaix is Christmas to me. One of the happiest days of my year comes on the day they release the schedule for it (which happened late last week). The Wisconsin State 'Cross Championship is Christmas to me. Heck, after this year, even Montrose may be Christmas to me. (Proctor is sort of Christmas Eve -- a lot of fun, a lot of anticipation, but not quite the real deal.) It doesn't matter that they're not National Championship races -- what matters is that, deep down, I will do whatever it takes to have a good ride at each of those events. Year in and year out, I was fooling myself when I called other races my "A" events. Because, truly, none of the rest mattered as much to me as these do.

(Even when I swore up and down that I would never race 'cross again after the fiasco in Carpentersville, somewhere deep inside me I was scheming to have a good ride in Sun Prairie.)

So next time you see Kelly, thank him for me. Let him know that as he plans his Christmas Day for 2006 with his new team, he inadvertently helped me figure out what really matters to me in this sport. And when I line up at Hillsboro in April, Sun Prairie in November, and Providence in December, I'll be thanking him too.

ONLY 314 DAYS TO NATZ!!!!

(By the way, props given where props due. Kelly took the Bronze Metal in the IP before storming off the front of the Points Race on Thursday night for the National Championship victory and the accompanying Stars-and-Stripes jersey. As for me? I was 11 seconds slower in the IP and finished second-last [3 seconds slower than in Kenosha 2003], our Team Pursuit squad never really got a groove going, and I was out of my league in the Madison. Oh, and I finally discovered a deep passion for Cyclocross! Thanks Kelly!)

05 February 2006

Kim's B-day with the Kopsells

Kim's family came over last evening to celebrate Kim's birthday (which is really on Wednesday, by the way). Perfect opportunity for some photos!

Kim and Kaylie got going with the balloons -- they were definitely one of the highlights of the evening! As you can see in the photo on the left, Kaylie wasn't always her bright 2-year-old self this evening ... Oh, and I guess she gets her photo taken so much at daycare that she automatically goes into surly mode as soon as she hears a camera powering up!

She and my father-in-law did have some fun watching these amazing old-time Disney propaganda films from World War II ... she just wanted to see the "Duck" (Donald) -- it's a good thing she's a bit young to fully understand or appreciate the cartoons themselves ... some of the stereotypes and war-related messages were pretty intense!

I got in on the balloon act as well -- Kaylie was having a blast trying to chase the balloons as we first filled them up and then let them fly! I'll chalk it up to lung-based cross training!

Finally it was time for Kim to blow out the candles ...

... and for Kaylie to enjoy one of Uncle Chris' specialties -- chocolate milk!

Finally, it was off to a rousing game of "sweep the floor," as Aunt Kim made Kaylie fly around our hardwood in all sorts of directions! This is one of Kaylie's favorite sports, as she laid down and started asking for Kim at the earliest opportunity, and was super-cute every time she asked "'Gain? 'gain?" to do it again and again ...



ONLY 315 DAYS TO NATZ!!

04 February 2006

Out of the Doghouse (aka The Good Husband)

OK! Redemption! Kim's not even home yet, and I've done a crapload of work! I threw on some of Renee's "angry music," and have finished some of the more onerous of the household cleaning, including the bathroom, half the kitchen, and some odds and ends ... more than I expected to get through, that's for sure!

Enough for now ... it's time to party!

Procrastination

Kim just left to do some last-minute grocery shopping, so I'm hitting the keyboard in a vain effort to not clean the house some more ... she'll read this on Monday, and I'm sure I'll hear about it! D'oh!

Seriously, just a quick note before I finish my chores -- Kim's family comes over this afternoon for an early b-day party for Kim -- we get to see the whole Kopsell clan, including Kaylie! (Well, OK, excluding the Arizona contingent, but still.) I should have some cute pics on Monday maybe!

Happy b-day to Wes Hartman, I think he turns 12 or 13 today. Still working on BF?! OK, ha, ha -- he looks leaner and meaner than I've ever seen, and I'm sure this year will be BIG for him! Go Wes!

One other thought to leave you with ... Kim and I are catching up on the 2005 Tour de France, now that West Wing is off the air until March (and soon to be forever ...) Is it just me, or is cycling still really provincial, even in 2005? I mean, one of the ICONS of the sport, and one of the greatest Tour riders ever, Bernard Hinault, spends his time zippering up the jerseys of the podium leaders. While it's great to have the Badger involved, isn't there a more dignified job he could be doing? I'm sure it's not the only thing he does, but can you imagine Jordan, or Namath, or Pele hanging around putting clothes on people?

ONLY 316 DAYS TO NATZ!!!!

03 February 2006

So ... about that weight thing?

Just got this e-mail from USA Cycling. Still no word yet on the little issue I raised. Please ignore their spelling error in the last sentence -- and did you notice that it's void if sold or bartered? What if I get them from a friend? What's the price of friendship?


United Bike Vouchers extended through Feb. 28Colorado Springs, Colo. (Feb. 2, 2006) - The expiration date on the United bike vouchers has been extended to February 28, 2006.

Current United vouchers with the January 31, 2006 expiration date can be used through the month of February. USA Cycling expects to receive new vouchers good through the remainder of the year by the end of February. If you are traveling prior to February 28th and have not received your vouchers, please contact your internal membership coordinator. Any vouchers requested through our on-line system, will be fulfilled after we receive the new shipment of United Vouchers.

Vouchers are subject to terms, conditions and availability and may be withdrawn without notice. Each current annual licensed USA Cycling member is eligible to receive two (2) FREE one-way bike vouchers ($160 value) per license year as a member benefit. Passengers must provide their membership/license number on the front of the voucher.

This voucher does not waive the cost of the United Bike Box if the passenger does not already have one. Vouchers are not transferable. Vouchers have no cash value and is void if duplicated, sold or bartered. These vouchers are good for travel on United Airlines, United Shuttle or United Express within the 50 United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. To request your vouchers for travel after February 28th, log into you’re My USA Cycling account.

A series of fortunate events

I'm sure I'm jinxing the heck out of the rest of my Friday, and probably the whole weekend too, but I just have to write about the past 16 hours. They've been pretty fantastic! I had a different blog planned and written ... maybe I'll post that later today ...

First, I was able to get out of work just after 5, after my boss' boss approved a project that has been stalled for way too long. So that sort of kick-started it. Then, I had a good phone conversation with Kim, as she drove to work and I headed home. It's sort of weird when she's in two classes and I'm in a busy training phase -- some weeks, we literally do not see each other from Tuesday night until Friday night (except when the other is sleeping, or if Kim wakes me up when she gets home from class ;-) ). This was almost one of those weeks!

Anyway, I got home and quickly changed into my running gear, and headed over to Mt. Trashmore. Just one loop, with one time up the "big hill," and it was back home in time to quickly chamois up and walk over to the Shop ...

... and there it was. Hanging from a hook toward the back, alone but oozing grace and speed. I pulled it down -- it was impossibly light, its white color absolutely shining in the flourescent glare of the ceiling lights. Its black crankset, fork, and handlebars brought out the rich darkness of the name decals; the red tires highlighted the accents that the Italian master had created. This beauty was built for one thing, and one thing only, and it was apparent even sitting still on the Shop floor.

A couple of quick adjustments, a moment to drill a drain hole, and I slapped on pedals "borrowed" from Kim's bike. (I cracked the spring in one of my race pedals, so they're being warrantied.) We threw it up on the scale -- 17.6lbs! Just 8.03kg! For a 60cm frame! That's insane for a 'cross bike! (I'll lose another 0.1lbs when I get my pedals, so we'll just call it 17.5lbs, OK?) It's more than 4lbs lighter than my Cannondale, and 3lbs lighter than my road bike!

I couldn't wait to get on it, and Andy just happened to be there picking up his ride. Although I had ridden in the morning, and just done a run, I wanted to get at least a few minutes on the bike ... it didn't take much for Andy to convince me to head down to Montrose with him.

Man, the new bike is sweet!!!!! Even on the street, before we headed onto the dirt, I could tell the difference. I've been on the Cannondale exclusively since September, and even though my saddle was out of adjustment, I was flying. Every stoplight was a chance to accelerate, every intersection a chance to rail a corner. As strong as the Cannondale might be, it was like driving a rally car after driving a tank!

And when we got to the dirt? HEAVEN! I couldn't believe how amazing it felt. My tires were over-inflated for the conditions, so between that and the light weight, I was going way too fast in some of the cornering sections. I was going so quick that sections I normally pump pretty hard were behind me before I knew it! This is definitely going to take some getting used to!

Andy did talk me into an extra lap, and it was all I could do to hold back and not try to just peg it. Lifting the bike at the "barriers" was incredible, and I seriously felt like I was going to throw it instead of carry it. Once I get this thing dialed in, it will be a force to be reckoned with!

Needless to say, I was up late fiddling around when Kim got home, so we did get to see each other after all. The fun continued this morning, as I awoke 5 minutes before the alarm, feeling totally refreshed despite the short night. Then, at the Y, I squatted more weight than I have since I was playing football in high school -- I consider it a new PR! Then, on my way to work, I stopped at Starbucks -- because they had run out of decaf brew, I got mine for free, just for waiting an extra 2-3 minutes! How cool is that?!

So please forgive me this completely self-indulgent blog entry -- I'm just so excited right now that I can't stop beaming!

ONLY 317 DAYS TO NATZ!!!!
AND ONLY 1 DAY TO WES HARTMAN'S B-DAY!

02 February 2006

It's done!!!!!

Just got word from Lou that the new ride is ready! Wooo-hooo! Now I have to wait 4 hours until I can get to the Shop to see it ...

In the meantime, check this out -- Lou's ride is on the Web! http://plusonelap.blogspot.com Mine's not carbon, nor is it quite as light, but it's a LOT closer than the Cannondale! (Current estimate is that I'm saving a full 2kg with the new ride! That's 4.4lbs for you metrically impaired!)

Is it Christmas again already????????!!!!!!!!

It's posted!

Registration isn't open yet, but the details are now available!

Over and over and over and over ...

I've always had a special affinity for Groundhog Day. Growing up, it was my great-grandfather's birthday; then, when I met Kim, I got a vicarious connection to the Bill Murray film of the same name. See, Kim was in Student Council when the film was made in her hometown of Woodstock, Illinois, so despite her suffering from mono, she got to go on an "exchange" out to Pennsylvania to see the real Phil. Then, when we got married, after the ceremony we hung out in the Woodstock town square, aka Punxsutawney, PA.

I guess Phil saw his shadow this morning, which means we're in for winter until mid-March. Heck, if this is winter, I'll take it! (Forecast high for Punxsutawney today is 48!) But check this out:

Others latched on to the Phil frenzy for a publicity boost — for just about anything, from global warming to the lottery. ...
... The American Physiological Society was offering experts to discuss "What Punxsutawney Phil can teach us about surviving massive blood loss, preventing muscle atrophy, and more."

How sad is that? What can a groundhog teach us about massive blood loss? Hell, just race 'cross! Then again, there was that scene where Phil went after Phil (Bill Murray) in the old truck ...

Happy birthday to: B-day wishes to Rhonda Mazza, top-25 Worlds finisher for the U.S. in Zeddam! Mazza also happens to be the wife of Erik Tonkin, another U.S. Worlds team member. And for those of you who follow road cycling, Sandy Casar turns 27 today.

Training time: Good ride last night at Montrose -- my first time ever doing intervals off-road. It hurt! They weren't much -- we're a long way from race fitness here -- but enough to get the engine fired up. BIG difference from the road, though, since you lose momentum constantly on the trail vs. rolling with the terrain on the road. I'm thinking the Tour de Groundhog (keeping with the theme today!) will be pretty ugly in a couple of weeks ... my longest interval last night was 2 minutes, and I was suffering!

ONLY 318 DAYS TO NATZ!!

01 February 2006

Arizona on my mind

My nephew Gabe's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks. A few years ago we went out there for his first birthday ... since then, we've pushed our spring trip back a few weeks due to school and other commitments. So this year, we don't get to see them until late March, but it will be fun!

Anyway, I guess his mom (my sister-in-law, Kelli) has been asking him what he wants for his birthday. One of his answers?
"We should get a map so we know how to get to Uncle Chris' house."