30 July 2006

Popping the cherry

The bloom is off the rose! I'm sitting here on Sunday afternoon, a bag of frozen corn on my swelling shin, a bit of blood oozing from numerous small cuts (and one big gash), and a thumbnail that looks like I took out a serious option on black nailpolish ...
I'M A MOUNTAIN BIKER!!!!

That's right, my friends, my whole world has shifted. Thanks to a fortunate series of unfortunate events, this week of bad juju turned around, culminating in a very, very sweet ride becoming available, and I wasted no time at all jumping on it -- and when I say jumping, I mean with BOTH FEET!

Ride like you stole it. This is 5 a.m. Sunday, before setting out for Palos.

Four inches of travel front and rear, a rear shock that has three on-the-fly settings that determine its feedback, a very nice set of hoops, and dead-on trigger shifters -- this thing is built to RIDE!

So that's just what I did! I knew this day was coming, I just didn't quite expect it to be as totally cool as it was. It was quite a change from the cyclo-cross trail riding I've been doing -- everything was "nicer" (my back barely protested at all), and a whole lot faster. Sure, I didn't climb quite as well, but the singletrack and the decents were outrageous, and only twice did I get in over my head ...

The first was just 32 minutes into the ride, as I flew down some doubletrack at about 20mph. There was a channel in the middle of one of the ruts, and as the trees on the right forced me to my left, my tires caught on the edge and I had a full-on yard sale. No big deal, thankfully the grass was still a bit wet so I just slid -- about 10 feet into a bush!

The second was a bit nastier. I passed a couple of guys on a fire road, and railed into the beginning of the singletrack on Out and Back, my favorite trail. Well, I wanted to stay ahead of them, so I really pushed it ... it went well for about 3 minutes ... left, right, left, right, and OH SH*T! I made a big mistake, grabbing a fistfull of brake, and slammed straight into a tree. I bounced off my right shoulder, slamming my right thumb somehow, and bashed my left shin with my pedal. A bit dazed, I pulled myself off the trail, and as I noticed blood running down into my sock the three guys came by with a friendly "Everything all right?" Huh. Yeah. Just great.

Thankfully it was pretty much the end of my day anyway, so I finished out the trail, hit one more small section of singletrack, and then widetracked it back to the big hill to finish with a FLYING downhill. SO much faster with suspension!

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited. I told my brother about the bike last night at his birthday dinner, and we're going to hit the trails at Veteran's Acres together next Saturday. We haven't ridden together in like 3 years, and that was a road ride -- he used to be a very good mountain biker, but hasn't ridden in a while, so I figure my lack of skill and his lack of fitness will probably cancel each other out just right!

And yes, I'm already checking out the WORS calendar for next year ... 4" is a bit much for XC racing, but with the adjustable shock it should be alright ... and it's just perfect for 12 hours ... or more ...

Shout out: To Universal Sole and Paul, the owner. He put on a running race at Palos this morning, and as near as I can tell it barely disrupted traffic at all. The volunteers were all super-nice (even lead biker Jason Para, out there on his 'cross bike), the course looked very well marked (and challenging!), and Paul is just a super-cool dude. I've known him since the day he opened the store at the first location, but haven't seen him in a few years -- when I stopped to chat, it was like I was still a runner!

ONLY 140 DAYS TO NATZ!!

28 July 2006

Happy birthday!

Happy birthday to my brother Tim, and also to my college friend Karen Rheault! We're celebrating tomorrow with my family at Bob Chinn's for Tim ... Karen is doing her own celebrating in the baking heat that is California at the moment ...

Big happenings in the heat this weekend. I hope to tell all about it on Monday!

27 July 2006

Bad juju

Man, there is some bad juju going around. Something is really not right. I'm really glad I'm not racing this weekend -- last time it was this strong and I raced, I ended up with a broken neck.

Speaking of bad juju: Phonak confirms Landis positive. Hell, even the guy next to me at work has already heard the news. All I can hope is that the T/E ratio is off because of dehydration -- remember, Stage 17 was super-hot, crossing several cols. Either way, though, this is the absolute worst possible news for the sport. Bookend the biggest race in the world with doping suspensions? Crap.

What a pain in the ass: Papp operated on in Italy (scroll down to the last story). Can you imagine extracting 300cc of marmalade from your left butt cheek? Ouch! Best of luck to Joe, and to his wife Yuliet -- they've made the best of a bad situation, and if she can get out of Cuba permanently, life will be good.

Good news from the CCC: Thanks to Chris Henning, a fellow 'crosser from Northbrook, we get word from the Chicago Cyclocross Cup folks: "The Chicago Cyclocross Cup should be publishing a tentative schedule for the 2006 season posted on the website within the next month or so. Thanks for checking in with us - check back soon!"

More work in the Lagoons: Construction shouldn't have an affect on us, as we ride up near Dundee Road, but any improvement to the dam system at the Lagoons will be great. Drainage up there is nasty-bad, with some parts of the shore submerged for months at a time!
ONLY 143 DAYS TO NATZ!!

26 July 2006

Omerta?

I hate to say it, but I'm not surprised: Andreu fired from Toyota-United

Thing is, this very well could be a case of someone not fulfilling his duties. I mean, I like Frankie a lot, but his description of the events is kind of flakey. Then again, I don't believe in coincidence ...

... and in other disturbing news: UCI says Tour ‘A' test comes up positive

... and boy would I hate to be on the UCI and ASO's legal teams right now: Astana 5' cleared by Spanish courts

Dare I say it? How f*ed up is all this?

A week in the life

I made a comment to Kim that it was a rare event on Friday that we didn't run into someone I knew. (Yes, even in Germany, we ran into a guy who lived on my dorm floor in college.) Little did I know (scroll down, there's a picture) ...

Couple of things going on this week:

  • Work sucks: I managed to get yelled at by the company prez and lose my best employee in the span of 18 hours. As the French say, jamais deux sans trois (never two without three), so I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Good news is that when I have strife at home or work, I ride like the wind!
  • Freds suck: I spent a lot of time at Rock Cut this weekend, and Kim is riding really well! One of the nice things about Rock Cut is that it's a shade easier than Palos, so is perfect for 'cross bikes -- unfortunately, that's also one of the bad things about it. We got out there at about 10:30 on Saturday morning, which even then was cutting it close following the torrential rains on Friday ... obviously, a bunch of people had already been out there, tearing up the trails while they were wet. Sunday was even worse, as the trails were perfect, but there were skid marks everywhere! OK, I'm on a cyclo-cross bike, and I'm not skidding my wheels ... you don't need to either! Control your ride, be nice to the environment, and we'll all be happy!
  • Kim rocks: Like I said, Kim is riding really strong on the trails. She hadn't been out since before vacation, and she looked awesome for her first time at Rock Cut. A little more practice, a bit more fitness, and watch out!
  • Wisconsin rocks: Thanks to JPE and the Wisco Cyclo-cross crew, we have a calendar! I'm bummed that Sheboygan isn't on there (I really wanted to do the sand and the stairs), but the good news is it looks like I'll be at a few of the races, including my favorites -- Cam-Rock and Angell Park. Angell Park may be interesting, though, as there is a UCI C2 the day before in Lincoln, NE ... but it's only a 9-hour drive ...
  • Calendars rock: I'm bummed that several UCI races have been taken off the calendar, but I'm super-excited that there is finally some clarity to the 'cross season. Looks like it will be a full one! Good thing I'm excited -- last Sunday marked just 2 months until the first UCI race! I gotta' get to work!

ONLY 144 DAYS TO NATZ!!

25 July 2006

Have a Nice Day

I believe that the music you listen to reveals a lot about you. And if that's the case, I'm an aging, overweight, semi-redneck woman with feathered hair and shoulder pads, wearing way too much makeup and hairspray in an attempt to look like I'm 23, not 43. And I'm damn proud of it!

See, I'm a Bon Jovi fan. Have been ever since I was a kid -- "Runaway" was released in 1982, when I was 9, and I've been hooked on rock keyboard riffs ever since. When Slippery When Wet came out, I was one of the first in line at house of the "Tape Guy" down the block -- the guy who worked for the record company and had piles and piles of tapes and vinyl in his garage that he would sell to the neighborhood kids for a couple of bucks. That's also how I picked up 7800 Degrees Farenheit, but by the time New Jersey came out, I had a bit more cash and the Tape Guy had moved out ...

So when I heard Bon Jovi was coming to Chicago, and playing at Soldier Field, I wanted to be there. I have, burned in my brain, the image from the video for "Wanted Dead or Alive" that shows Bon Jovi on stage from behind, when the floodlights light up the crowd just as he says "I've seen a million faces/and I've rocked them all." I wanted to experience that moment for myself, 20 years later, since my parents wouldn't let me go to the Slippery concert at the Rosemont Horizon ...

Call me a sap, call me a dork, I don't care. It was an awesome concert. The band played non-stop for 2-1/2 hours, basically wearing down the crowd until they brought down the house after three encores with "Blood on Blood" and "Keep the Faith." Jon Bon Jovi is a consummate showman, still with a good voice, and even the Sun-Times says that we got our money's worth. Richie Sambora looked a bit scary (although it didn't seem to bother the screaming women just behind me, every time he came on the giant screen), David Bryan's hair has suffered for way too long, and Tico Torres was incredible. Most of all, Bon Jovi himself just looked to be having fun, literally as if the past 24 years just haven't happened.

Unfortunately, most of the crowd played along with the charade. Except that where Bon Jovi (who is now 44) hasn't seemed to age, and is in amazing shape, his fans have. And although they've gotten older, they haven't moved on. It was a big-hair, big-shoulders, mullet love fest, and at one point it occured to me (as they pumped AC/DC through the speakers to warm up the crowd): I listen to the same music they do. What does that say about me?

I guess maybe it's just a guilty pleasure for me. I'm a nostalgic at heart, and Bon Jovi's lyrics and themes are pure pop schmaltz. (As Kim pointed out, not once -- all night -- did we hear a swear word from the band. The most risque moment was during "Have a Nice Day" when bad-boy Sambora flipped off the crowd during every chorus.) I just hope that one day I don't wake up looking like Mrs. Doubtfire!

Strangest moment: During the super-sappy ballad "Always," a fight broke out on the level just above us. It was a surreal moment as beer and blood went flying and security all had to swarm. Of course, the woman coming back from the beer line had no idea as she tried to get to her seat ...

Goofiest outfit: In a cold-weather night of goofy, 80s-era clothing, one guy took the cake: mullet, goatee, wifebeater shirt, and cotton sweatshorts! It was like a really bad, bad gym class horror flick.

I'm your biggest fan: We had a heck of a time hearing the first few songs, as the two guys behind us kept shouting at Richie Sambora: "Homewrecker!" Then, any time he and Bon Jovi got near each other, "Quit being gay!" Eventually they settled down, and it occured to me: these guys knew EVERY WORD to EVERY SONG, and they shouted like little schoolgirls after each one! They were so into it, at one point one of them was hand-waving and simultaneously whacked Kim and I on the head!

Oh, and "Wanted?" They held off until the first encore, and started it with an audience sing-along. But it was cool. And the floodlights were in full effect.

ONLY 145 DAYS TO NATZ!!

24 July 2006

American flyer

I think I became cynical at a young age, watching American Flyers over and over again. The hard-ass 7-Eleven rider crosses the line and gets accosted by a reporter, who asks him if he's proud that two Americans beat a (Soviet) Olympic champion. To which he replies:
"I'm not riding for America, lady. I tried that once. ... and I got beat by opinions"
That's sort of how I feel right now about the Tour de France. I'm excited that Floyd won, and I'm excited that the U.S. has produced another Tour champion. But to listen to the sportscaster on Channel 9 this morning, or the lady at work who just accosted me in the hallway, you would think that Floyd won by riding faster than 150 French cyclists.

That's how the popular media is portraying it: Floyd beat the French. Never mind that his team is Swiss, his bike is Swiss, and he only rides with two other "Americans" -- and one of them is Canadian! (And neither rode the Tour.) For some reason, this is some sort of big deal that an "American" beat the French in their race.

I look at it another way: the best guy won. Sure it's great that he's from Pennsylvania by way of California. Yeah, it's kind of neat he has a Chicago-area connection. But I respect more that he rode out of his mind on Thursday to haul himself back into contention than I do that he's an "American." I'd respect anyone who did that, regardless of the accident of his birthplace, and would be just as excited for that rider as I am for Floyd.

(Well, mostly. If Robbie McEwen were ever in the fluke circumstance of donning the Yellow Jersey in Paris, I would not be excited at all.)

And I hate to tell ASO and Jean-Marie LeBlanc, but they already know the truth: The Tour is no longer a French race. Hasn't been for nearly two decades. That's like saying the just-finished World Cup was a German soccer tournament. The Tour is bigger than one person, bigger than the sport, bigger, even, than the country that hosts it. So bravo, Floyd, congratulations. You deserve all the accolades and Champagne you can get. But I have to ask -- did you do it for America?

ONLY 146 DAYS TO NATZ!!

21 July 2006

Morbid?

Maybe, but those are my stock options you're talking about!

http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/chi-0607210028jul21,1,1360037.column?coll=chi-news-hed

Thanks Dave!

So did you all catch the awesome cyclo-cross dismount Landis pulled after crossing the line yesterday? Pretty sweet, 'eh?

I wanted to give a shout-out to Dave Johnsen, author of the brilliant Biking Illinois: 60 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides. Dave and I go back a ways ... back all the way, in fact, to when we were both running. Since then, we've both moved on to cycling, although Dave took it to the extreme with a cross-country trip a few years ago!

Dave has also taken a leap of faith and become a self-supporting freelance writer. That's the step I don't ever see myself taking ... too risky, too scary, too much work to promote yourself ... not for me, thanks! But he's really good at it, and is "living the life" ... Anyway, not too long ago he published Biking Illinois, and has been on a cross-state crusade of book signings and promotion -- this, after his cross-state crusade to find the best road and trail rides around!

Last night he was at The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, the first time I've had a chance to get out and see him. We talked for a while, getting caught up and chatting with a fellow local author also there for a signing (a golf book). Dave signed books for my brother, dad, and Kim and I. I had a chance to flip through some of the rides, and it's pretty cool -- not only does it include fantastic maps and descriptions, but Dave researched and wrote about all the little quirks and interests that make Illinois great. And each ride has a definite start/finish, with parking and amenities identified in the text ... perfect for planning!

Over the past year, as he researched and wrote, I offered Dave some route advice for a couple of rides, and pointed him in the direction of a couple of others. I thought it was cool that he was working on this type of book, and I was more than happy to help ... Well, as it turns out, Dave put me in the credits! I was flipping through this morning, and there was my name on the Acknowledgements page! It's sort of this bizzarre "dream" of mine to appear in the credits of someone's book -- and now I can say I have!

Remember that scene from Young Guns, when Emilio Estevez says, "I'll make you famous ..."?

So if you get a chance, and are interested in some fun rides and routes from Chicago to Savannah, [ed note 7/24 -- it's Savanna, and apparently there are no rides in the book in that area. Sorry!] check out Biking Illinois. The Book Cellar has a few signed copies in stock, and it's being carried in a few other local bookstores, including some of the chains ... oh, and be sure to check out the Acknowledgements page!


ONLY 149 DAYS TO NATZ!!

20 July 2006

This week

Sorry for the lack of updates -- new person started at work, so I finally have a full staff, and I've been trying to train her in between ducking downstairs to watch the last 15-20min of Tour coverage each day on our flat-screen-equipped treadmills. Have I mentioned how happy I am that my company has a fitness center?

On a serious note, I will not be racing any more of Superweek. I had planned to head out to Whitefish Bay this Sunday, but got an e-mail from a former coworker of mine that our former boss has died after a 2-year battle with cancer. I had a pretty stormy relationship with her that ended on a rough note, but an unexpected death at a relatively young age (I'm guessing she's about the same age as my dad) has a way of putting everything into perspective. The memorial service is Sunday, and I feel compelled to go.

I was also saddened to hear of the death of a cat. 4/5 racer up at Holy Hill this week. I've only done that race once, and it's a tough one; once you're off the back, it's pretty lonely and I can see how parts of it can be dangerous. Still, that's no excuse -- this is the first-ever fatality at Superweek, and I hope that it's the only one.

Be careful out there -- "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may."

17 July 2006

Happy belated b-day!

Happy birthday to Renee, the 'cross goddess who's mostly responsible for my current obsession ... just a day late, sorry I missed it! Hope it was a great day!

ONLY 153 DAYS TO NATZ!!

16 July 2006

Re-entry

Boy, do I know how to pick 'em!

Superweek is by far the hardest racing we do all year on the road. The fields are big, the money is big, and guys can make or break their entire season's budget in the 21 days of speeding around Wisconsin roads and streets. Within that, though, some races are harder than others -- tougher courses, huge cash, killer competitors.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Waukesha is a great crit, and I really began to enjoy the course last year after I figured out how to corner in a pack. It's fast and challenging, and always brings out a great crowd ... so by the time the announcer is yelling "Leeeeettttttsssssss get ready to rumble!", the start/finish barriers are packed with people, all cheering for their international, national and local heros.

I don't want to say that Superweek started "easy" -- to do so would be a disservice to all the winners and competitors -- but the results pretty much speak for themselves. Up until Thursday, there weren't too many pros in the pack, and several local guys had some pretty outstanding results, well above what I would have expected. That all changed at Shorewood, and continued through yesterday, when each race was listed on the "National Racing Calendar" (NRC), meaning that besides the cash, there were all-important ranking points on the line. The thermometer wasn't the only thing going in hot yesterday!

We lined up in 95-degree heat, a huge field packed with internationals, world champions, national studs, and a whole lotta pros. As expected, it was hard -- hard -- from the gun, as we funneled through a narrow alley, up and around the hill, and then came swooping down into the start/finish stretch, this year with a slight tailwind, at more than 50kph. It was a heck of a reintroduction to the world of bike racing.

The good news is, I had a fantastic start, and my legs felt really good. Unfortunately, the Clif Bar I ate four hours earlier didn't feel as good, and decided that now would be a good time to start jumping up and down and doing cartwheels in my tummy. I pitty the poor guy behind me in line as we snaked up the hill ...

I did well to move around a bit and get away from some sketchy guys in the early going. On one lap, a guy dropped a pedal in turn 1, so I made it my mission to get ahead of him on the hill ... thankfully I did, because the next time around, he stacked it hard in the same corner! In all fairness, it was a toughy -- at the end of a long, fast, tailwind stretch, it was decreasing radius into an alley with light posts at the exit and up a hill ... ouch!

The peloton did 80 laps in the heat ... I did 8 that were really good. On lap 9, I too dropped a pedal (turn 5), and started to lose grip on the front side of the course. I threw out the lifeline to the guy in front of me for one lap, but that was about it ... on lap 11, I drifted way to the back (thanks to Bryce Mead, of all people, for encouragement as we went up the hill!), and on lap 12 I dropped my bottle as we went into the downhill because I couldn't get it into my cage ... and that was it. When you can't stay in on the flat part of the course with a tailwind, you know you're in trouble, and so did the guy behind me, as he grabbed my pocket to sling himself around and back into the pack ...

At $3 per lap (not counting gas), this was a pretty expensive race all in all. But it was so worth it! Like I said, my legs were good, I was just lacking that lactic-acid-induced fitness that can only come with racing. And trying to jump back in with an NRC race will definitely remind you of that! As is normal when I haven't raced in a while, my stomach was a bit of a mess too -- another weekend, a few more interval workouts, and everything should be right as rain ... and boy did my legs feel good!

Couple of notes: I did a long ride afterward on the Gilman trail, heading west from Waukesha out to Summit. Great long, gradual downhill coming back from Wales -- totally cranking it, TT-style, did wonders for my morale as I came back into town.

Andy had a good race, lasting a bit longer than me. This has been a tough Superweek for him -- can't wait to get him out on the trails this winter to help him bike handle and corner better ... the strength is there, the technique will come ...

Finally, when you're done, you're done. If you get dropped from a Pro/1/2 field at Superweek, do the guys a favor and stay dropped. Exit the course. You're doing them a disservice as they go for the primes and the cash -- and you will get dropped again, so don't make them do the extra work to close the gap you will again open. I don't care what championship you may have won -- how would you like some spank to come into your operating room and start monkeying around with the BP cuff?

ONLY 154 DAYS TO NATZ!!

15 July 2006

Droppin' some NRC

(with apologies to Blues Traveler ...)

I sure know how to pick 'em! Today's race up in Waukesha is on the National Racing Calendar -- any pro who isn't at Cascade or some other far-flung race, and/or is tuning up for Altoona next weekend, should be there this afternoon. And as flat and fast as tomorrow will be (for everyone racing, not me!), today is the fun course with the small hill -- good times! Especially in the 95-degree heat, heat index up near 105 ... whew! At least today has some shade -- unlike tomorrow!

Last year I was off the front of this race for a short while, and had a pretty good showing after dropping out the year before when I couldn't breathe. Kim and I just got back from an easy spin, and although I haven't pushed too hard since Thursday night, I think the legs are good, and it should be fun! Bring it on!

ONLY 155 DAYS TO NATZ!!

14 July 2006

Bring the heat!

I've been seriously down in the dumps lately about my "place" in the peloton. I've had decent results in the past couple of years, but when I see teammates and rivals pull out great performances, I struggle a bit, wondering why I am not doing the same thing. It's a slippery slope to chase down -- it's not healthy to constantly be comparing yourself to others, but that's the way cycling is -- you're only as good as your last podium. It's hard enough to hear it in your own head, but when those around you compare you too ...

Every once in a while, though, something happens to come along and put all that behind. And thankfully, that something happened to me last night: I had an amazing ride.

On the drive home from work, I wasn't looking forward to riding. I was tired, I was cranky, I was questioning whether it's all worth it. On tap was a 2-1/2 hour endurance ride with 4x 1min 90% efforts with 2min rest. Not a hard ride by any means, especially on the flatlands north of Chicago, just a bit long and a bit humid.

I got out the door, and my legs didn't really feel that good. More accurately, my head didn't feel all that good -- I just wasn't into it. I even started calculating whether I would finish the ride at all, or just turn around at 30 minutes and bag it. There's a small rise about 28min into the ride, and as I went up it I seriously considered finding another way home.

My body has a funny way of reacting to riding -- every day, every ride, it takes exactly 32 minutes to warm up. I can feel like absolute dog meat at 31:30, but at 32:05 I can be flying. And yesterday, I was flying.

All of a sudden, that magic moment passed (I swear it's not conscious -- I don't even look at my watch until I feel good), and I was on fire. I clicked into the big ring, and started cruising effortlessly at about 36kph. My heart rate was good, my power was good, and this endurance ride just got fun.

By the time I hit Glencoe, I decided to postpone my intervals until the end of the ride, just to make them harder. By the time I hit Highland Park, I decided to throw in a trip up the boat ramp -- and then proceeded to big ring it up the climb! This is one of the steeper grades around, and I was just cruising as I spun up in my 53. I'm not sure I've ever been able to do that before! I sat for about half of it, then clicked down and cranked the last part out of the saddle. Woo-hoo!

I looped up to the fort, hitting the climb inside (averaging 32kph+, also in the big ring, seated), and then headed into Lake Forest. I started to feel it in the legs a bit as I made the turn for home, but this was my ride, and I hit the fort climb again (again 32kph+ seated), and had just enough left to hit the boat launch again -- this time sitting in the big ring! Awesome!

You can guess that the 4x 1min intervals were tough, and by the third one (in which a Mercedes tried to kill me), I was pedaling squares. But I gutted them out, digging a bit to keep the legs moving as the final seconds wound down. By the time I did my "crit training" (cornering) through downtown Winnetka, I was back in cruise mode, pretending to be David Zabriskie on a lone break in the Vuelta ... The cool-down from B'hai was nice and smooth, as the sun set and I finished up my bottles and rolled through Evanston. I came home drenched, tired, and happy -- this was an incredible ride. I can't wait to get out there again!

ONLY 156 DAYS TO NATZ!!

13 July 2006

Chicago 2016?

Let me start by saying I'm all for a Chicago Olympics. I think it's a cool idea, and a great way to showcase this city on a world stage. I think the improvements the Games would bring to the city would be a huge boost, and I look forward to just being near all the excitement and action should it ever come to fruition.

Call me biased, but there seems to be one major flaw in the city's plans for the Games: where do you put a road cycling course in metro Chicago? One that will be exciting, and at least challenging on some level? Hate to tell you, but this city is too damn FLAT!

Sure, a bike race up and down Lake Shore Drive would provide spectacular views. But where's the sport in that? We might as well just hand the crown to Tom Boonen (if he's still racing) or Alejandro Valverde now! What a waste!

According to the Trib, almost all the events will take place in the Chicago metro area. Which means the gem of Midwest climbing, the area just west of Madison (and used in the Wisconsin Ironman), is too far out of bounds to be used. There could be some awesome courses up there, but instead it sounds like we're doomed for a flat run-in dominated by a sprint finish ... On the other hand, the TT will be FAST, FAST, FAST!

On a positive note, the bid seems to have come together pretty well, and the Trib coverage makes it sound like there are some real possibilities here. This graphic is pretty cool, although the construction on the lakefront is sure to impact the trail down there pretty significantly. And even cooler, Palos has been selected for the MTB events -- they'll get a dry run during the Gay Games in the next couple of weeks, and it would be cool to see!

The pick-up artist

I accidentally went to the dentist yesterday (I was early for my appointment ... by a week), and on the way down I had a front-row seat to an amazing "Love on the L" true-life E! Hollywood event.

I got on at South Street in Evanston, and was a bit dismayed to find the car filled with Northwestern summer students, talking up a storm. For once, I actually had work to do, and it was a little distracting ... if I had only known ...

Anyway, we get to Howard, and the red-headed girl sitting next to me asks if she should transfer to the Red Line to get to the Chicago stop. Her voice was super high-pitched, and I didn't even get to answer as she talked through all the options in the blink of an eye before deciding to switch at Belmont. At the same time, the guy across from us had gotten up, exited the train, and then come back in to ask whether this train would get him downtown.

"Where are you trying to go?" she asked. "Northwestern's Loop campus," he said. "Ohmygawsh! I'm going there too!"

... and they lived happily ever after. Not too long ago Red Eye did a story about love on the L, but I had never seen it in person. It was pretty amazing, she was super-smooth, and he just played right along with it. She was sitting next to him by the time we passed Loyola, and he was very gentlemanly to ask whether he could keep eating his dinner. He is a first-year grad student at Kellogg from Houston by way of a small college in Virginia (that she said she had heard of -- almost derailing the conversation from the start), she's a sophomore majoring in music and maybe environmental science who lives in a small town between Dallas and Ft. Worth. She's here teaching a summer music camp; he's just trying to get his business degree started. She likes to run and bike; he plays tennis ... and ohmygawsh! I have always wanted to learn to play tennis! Well, it's an easy game to learn ...

I'm sort of jealous, actually. I've never been smooth in situations like that, and I remember my first convseration with Kim as being nervous and a bit awkward. By the time he followed her onto the platform at Belmont, there were already deep bonds being formed ... needless to say, I didn't get too much work done ...

ONLY 157 DAYS TO NATZ!!

12 July 2006

Cyclo-cross riding will make you go blind

My back is still pretty tight, but I seem to be riding OK -- this morning felt like the rear brake was on a bit, and I need to be sure to rest before trying my hand at Stupidweek this Saturday. The power was decent though, and I can sustain it more than I did last week ... we'll see how the legs recover after today.

One thing I didn't mention from my fun-in-the-sun at Kettle was the blisters I developed ... on my palms! I was wearing gloves, but my hands must have gone soft over in Germany, plus I couldn't change hand positions all that much in the quest for control on the rocky ground. So I ended up the ride sort of grabbing with my fingertips, and now I'm a little worried I'm going to go blind from so much 'cross riding ...

Random stuff alert:

  • There was apparently a big brew-ha-ha at Road Nats last week with regards to open registration. Seems the first-come, first-served basis for on-line signup meant that some pretty big names and powerful teams were left on the sidelines, considering it filled up in March! I'm a little torn about this -- I understand their plight, especially with a field size of only 125. On the other hand, everyone got reminders in the weeks and days leading up to the event -- if you know you're planning your whole season around it, why wouldn't you sign up right away?
  • So, like a good citizen, I just completed my on-line registration for the Elite event at DG ... it's still an "open" race, for Cat. 1 U.S. riders only ...
  • Speaking of road nats, props given where props due -- Reid Mumford of ABD scored a silver medal in the road race, taking second from a three-man break on the tough Seven Springs course.
  • More props from Stupidweek -- Team Mack's own Clarke Priebe scored a top-15 finish at the über-tough Tour of Alpine Valley on Monday. That's a huge result, especially considering that Clarke is a "young" 41 years old!
  • USA Cycling has no friends right now, it seems, announcing that the USPro C'ship at Downers Grove is going U.S.-only, just 5 weeks before the event. WTF? This is even bigger than the crap last year with Elite Roads only getting a venue 7 weeks before the event ... what is it they're doing in Colorado anyway?
  • I have a feeling this means there will definitely be changes to the 'Cross Natz registration/qualification system, if they're having problems on the road. Which is OK, but kind of sucks a little -- I just checked out the UCI schedule, and two of our Midwest UCI races are no longer on the calendar (Saturday, 10/14 in Ohio [but Sunday is still a C2], and Sunday, 11/12 in Memphis). I'm still committed to getting UCI points, and am basing the rest of the season around that ... just 4 more road events left for me ...
  • USA Cycling has removed the Cyclocross link from their home page. I'm sure it's just a seasonal thing, but it strikes me as odd that USA Cycling would be that on the ball about it.
  • Sport KC has removed the online registration link for the 2007 'Cross Natz as well. That actually makes some sense, as we're still not sure what's going on in 2006 ... I just hope they haven't lost my registration, or that I'll get a refund if they do! (I completed the registration just for shits and giggles a while back ...)

ONLY 158 DAYS TO NATZ!!

10 July 2006

Back at it, again

Today is the first day where I sort of feel normal, well, not completely, but mostly. I'm still not ready to fully give up on my vacation vibe, so it's not 100% yet, but I will spend more than 6-1/2 hours in meetings today at work, so I need to be at least partially there.

Yesterday was an experience. I can see why all the MTBers love it up at Kettle. It sort of combines the most difficult rocky stuff I saw in Arizona with the most difficult technical stuff from Rock Cut (which is to say, not that technical, but just enough). I started out on the easy "warmup" loop a couple of times, all 7 minutes of it, just getting a feel for the sand and the trails. It was weird not being off-road for more than a month!

I then managed a full blue loop, and after restocking water and food, hit the green to the connector, and then the green around Carlin before coming back. The connector has been rebuilt to be one-way each way, which made it pretty rough as it's new in a bunch of spots -- not the best of conditions on a 'cross bike, especially when the temps hit 90 and the ride has gone an hour longer than you planned!

Although very fun on the 'cross bike, Kettle is definitely more MTB friendly. I felt good on the run-ups out on Carlin, but I dumped on the hill on the Muir green, trying to gind the 44x26 and just not making it despite the erosion mats. Whacked my knee pretty good too! By the time I was coming back on the connector, the slowest, most "technical" part of the day, my back was already hurting and I was pretty fatigued -- Memorial day was only about 6 weeks ago, and yesterday didn't do me any favors as I can't really bend over or move too quickly today ...

So I can now say I've done Kettle, and I may go back, probably just before the season starts for one last hard technical day. It's pretty steep to park and ride there -- one-day parking is $10 and one-day trail use is $4 -- so annual passes would be in order if I were to go up four or more times. I maybe should have started out at Rock Cut, just to get back into it, but it's kind of nice when it only takes 45 minutes from Kari's to riding at Kettle!

I also made the obligatory pilgrimage to the General Store ... a lowfat cranberry scone, Sprecher Root Beer and a double-chocolate espresso cookie were a perfect way to ward off the bonk!

ONLY 160 DAYS TO NATZ!!

09 July 2006

Kettle!

Kim's mom and grandma are both in hospital right now (mom is doing great after double knee surgery -- WALKED out of rehab yesterday! Woo-hoo!), so we're out in the burbs, hanging with Kaylie and Kari. Just figured out that Kettle is 1/2hr. closer than Rock Cut! So it's off to Cheeseland today ... my first time on the trails up there, should be interesting!

ONLY 162 DAYS TO NATZ!!

07 July 2006

Not going out tonight

There's this obnoxious commercial on TV right now. Kim and I make fun of it every time we see it -- one college woman knocks on the door to another and says "Hey, let's go out tonight." Cut to the second woman, lying on a couch with a book: "I can't," she says, sitting up and putting a hand on her tummy, "I'm bloated and irregular." To which the first one responds, "Must be the stress of finals."

I think I have finals stress.

Everything was going so well the first couple of days back, my weight was stable (at the same weight as when we left), I felt OK, and I was getting back to working out. Now, I just want to lay on the couch and not go out tonight.

I'm sure I'll be fine, and it's just my body readjusting. And if I believe the commercials (and do some grocery shopping), I'll be back to normal by Whitefish Bay -- as long as I start a daily intake of Activia® with Bifidus Regularis™.

And therein lies my problem -- Apple strudel doesn't have Bifidus Regularis. Damn. Maybe I'll just have to suffer in silence.

Friday

First off, BIG CONGRATS to Jim and Shannon, who are to be married tomorrow in Walla Walla, Wa. Sorry we couldn't be there! It's so awesome when a couple registers at REI ... tells you a lot about their character! Have fun, and may this be the start of a long and happy life together!

Second, congrats to Robert Kron of Team Mack, who won the 40+ state crit last weekend in Peoria. He then proceeded to jump into the 1/2s race, placing 9th and just missing the state podium ... now if he only had time to train, maybe he could do something big ... ;-)

Third, congrats to ABD's Twin Towers, who both pulled off top-10 rides at the Elite National TT Championships yesterday in Seven Springs. They're both flying right now, and I'm sure once they're back in the Superweek mix, they'll be up at the front ...

Finally, good luck to Andy A. and everyone else starting Stupidweek tonight and tomorrow ...

ONLY 163 DAYS TO NATZ!!

06 July 2006

France vs. Italy

So the Portugal side's checkered past came back to haunt them yesterday, as Zidane place a well-shot conversion into the net in the 33rd minute after Henry drew a penalty at the top of the box.

And if you understood that, we'll have to check your green card.

Seriously, though, I was totally psyched to discover that ESPN was webcasting the game ... the feed wasn't 100%, but at least I had audio (and some video) for the final 30 minutes. Sounds like Christiano Ronaldo came awfully close, very late, but it just wasn't to be ...

So now it will be Italy and France in the finale in Berlin. This should be an interesting match, with France pulling three nominations for the Golden Ball short-list (including, of course, the great Zidane, looking like a criminal in this mug shot), and Italy pulling four -- including the best goalkeeper in this tournament, Gianluigi Buffon.

Unfortunately, that's why I have to predict an Italian victory, 3-1, over Les Bleus. As amazing as Zidane has been, the French goalkeeper (and my favorite baldy after Ludo Diercxksens, Fabien Barthez) has made a lot of mistakes of late, and will be no match against an Italian side that has seen 11 goals scored by 10 different players. Furthermore, Buffon has allowed only one goal the entire tournament, and that happened to be an own-goal against the U.S. Incredible.

As much as I'd like to see France repeat, and Zidane go out on top, I'm afraid it just won't happen. But I'll have to dig up something that resembles the tricolour on Sunday, just so I can be there in spirit ...

A big shout-out to my man Miroslav Klose for also making the short list -- while everyone else in Germany has been cheering the exploits of Ballack and Podoski, Klose has quietly racked up enough goals to be leading the Golden Boot competition, awarded to the footballer with the most goals in a tournament. One more and he will also tie Germany trainer Klinsmann for 11 all-time in World Cup competitions!

Only 164 days to Natz!!

France vs. Italy

So the Portugal side's checkered past came back to haunt them yesterday, as Zidane place a well-shot conversion into the net in the 33rd minute after Henry drew a penalty at the top of the box.

And if you understood that, we'll have to check your green card.

Seriously, though, I was totally psyched to discover that ESPN was webcasting the game ... the feed wasn't 100%, but at least I had audio (and some video) for the final 30 minutes. Sounds like Christiano Ronaldo came awfully close, very late, but it just wasn't to be ...

So now it will be Italy and France in the finale in Berlin. This should be an interesting match, with France pulling three nominations for the Golden Ball short-list (including, of course, the great Zidane, looking like a criminal in this mug shot), and Italy pulling four -- including the best goalkeeper in this tournament, Gianluigi Buffon.

Unfortunately, that's why I have to predict an Italian victory, 3-1, over Les Bleus. As amazing as Zidane has been, the French goalkeeper (and my favorite baldy after Ludo Diercxksens, Fabien Barthez) has made a lot of mistakes of late, and will be no match against an Italian side that has seen 11 goals scored by 10 different players. Furthermore, Buffon has allowed only one goal the entire tournament, and that happened to be an own-goal against the U.S. Incredible.

As much as I'd like to see France repeat, and Zidane go out on top, I'm afraid it just won't happen. But I'll have to dig up something that resembles the tricolour on Sunday, just so I can be there in spirit ...

A big shout-out to my man Miroslav Klose for also making the short list -- while everyone else in Germany has been cheering the exploits of Ballack and Podoski, Klose has quietly racked up enough goals to be leading the Golden Boot competition, awarded to the footballer with the most goals in a tournament. One more and he will also tie Germany trainer Klinsmann for 11 all-time in World Cup competitions!

Only 164 days to Natz!!

05 July 2006

Still feeling it

This is our third day back, and I still haven't adjusted. This always seems to happen to me -- yes, I'm a little tired, but it's more than jet lag -- it's sort of an unwillingness to come back to the routines of my life. Surprisingly, I'm finding it harder this time than I had predicted -- this vacation wasn't quite as "different" in some ways as France, and so I thought it would be easier to reintegrate. Nope!

Coming home always leads to several days of "hiding out" and trying really hard not to talk to anyone. I think maybe I just want to preserve the illusions in my head? Words can't really describe the emotions and feelings of what happened, so trying to tell people about it feels sort of hollow. Weird.

Great game yesterday. Kim and I did house stuff all day after I rode the Judson Ride, and then crashed on the couch watching the Tour replay, the first half of Ghost, and then the Germany game. Very much not a patriotic day, but it was a necessary day of re-entry, so to speak. Kim got a bunch of housework done, whereas I was pretty much useless until the game was over. Sad result, but 120 minutes of pure, awesome football.

Kim talked to Kari on Monday, and I guess this past weekend she was watching the Tour on TV. Well, Kaylie -- who hates television but watches the Tour each summer -- curled up in her lap. As the race thundered toward its sprint finish, all of a sudden Kaylie said she saw Uncle Chris and Aunt Kim on the TV. Not on the side of the road, mind you, but in the race! It's amazing what kids can come up with, isn't it?!

Only 165 days to Natz!!

03 July 2006

Willkommen!

Wow. That was an amazing trip. I'm still trying to process it ... a week ago we were in Heidelberg, the Monday before that in Berlin ... and now I'm in Northbrook. Crazy.

I haven't gone through photos or anything yet, and am a bit tired after catching only about 45 minutes of sleep in the 24 hours before we got to bed last night, so I just have random thoughts going through my head right now:

  • There is a world outside of cycling. I'm looking forward to riding again, but hiking in the mountains with Kim in Heidelberg, Innsbruck and Salzburg may be my new favorite fitness activity. Climbing above Schloß Heidelberg, finding ruined castles in Salzburg ... incredible.
  • It was also very telling just how much press coverage the Tour disaster is getting right now. Granted, Ullrich was suspended on the day Germany barely squeaked by Argentina to make it to the semis, but still. It gets covered, but it's not all-encompassing ... I'm sure the WM (Weltmeister -- World Cup) effect has something to do with it.
  • It was incredible to see how much has changed in the past 15 years, and how much hasn't. Berlin is a city on the move, and it's a very different place today. Also, there's a sense of pride in being German that hasn't been there for a long, long time -- remember, this is the first World Cup of a united Deutschland.
  • There is also a sense of inevitibility for the German fans. Wir fahren nach Berlin! they chant -- We're going to Berlin! They believe that Klinsmann will lead them to a world championship, and nothing can shake that certainty.
  • Some moments will stand in my memory forever:
    • Standing literally under the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on the day Germany won its last group game. Thousands and thousands of fans lining the Str. 17 Juni, from the gate all the way to the statue, as far as the eye could see. This is what national pride through sport is all about, uniting a country divided for so long, and still struggling. (And the party on the Ku'damm afterward was so cool!)
    • The muesli. Oh, the muesli!
    • Being able to freely stroll down Unter den Linden Str., and explore "East" Berlin without care. There's still a long way to go, but the construction cranes on the horizon bode well for the future.
    • The experience of attending a World Cup game, even if the game itself wasn't all that good. So incredible.
    • The muesli. Mmmmm ...
    • Attending a concert at Hohensalzburg, the fortress above the city, as the sun set after a rainstorm. In addition to playing Mozart, the quartet did an amazing rendition of Haydn's "Emperor's Hymn," the second movement of which was originally Austria's national anthem but which was later hijacked and became Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles. As such, I was surprised to hear it in Austria -- they only play it at the fortress concerts three times a year, and we timed it just right. If you can get past the political baggage, it really is a beautiful piece. (The melody still underlies the German national anthem, although now only the third -- the one not bent on world domination -- verse is used.)
    • Munich is sort of like Madison in a lot of ways. And whoever designed their Olympic Park had to have spent a lot of time in their local breweries beforehand. Or maybe a lot of time in Amsterdam, where stuff is a bit stronger?
    • Did I mention the muesli?
    • Finally, Neuschwanstein and the Hohenschwangau region south of Munich, where "the" fairy-tale castle is located, is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It's easy to see why Ludwig did what he did. Kim and I are already making plans to go back and "wander" ...

So we're safely back and trying to adjust to "real life." I'm looking forward to checking out the new Pony Shop, and thankfully today is a short day at work for me. There's still a lot of laundry and unpacking to do ...

Only 167 days to Natz!!