North, to the U.P.
August 1 – 4, 2014
4 days, 500 miles, 2 states.
Rain is guaranteed.
Here we go…
The kinder, gentler version of the Windy rolled out on July 25th and ended up also being the easiest, shortest, best attended and record # of flat tires (20ish?) so far. No 160+ mile days at 20mph this year.
Riding through the urban jungle (Racine is beautiful in July…) means riding through lots of crap on the road, so daily flats became a part of the experience. 500.4 miles and just 8,208 feet of elevation gain.
This ride has grown a bit since its inception 3 years ago. Back then it was just 4 guys on bikes who shipped a small box of stuff to a couple of hotels. No support. This year we had a full-sized Suburban full of crap, a skilled driver who always made sure the PBR was stocked and cold when we rolled in, and 9 riders.
Speaking of PBR, this year we combined the Windy 500 with another ride: “the PBR”. If you know the ride, consider yourself down. It’s a slower paced 150 miles over 2 days punctuated with awesome food, lots of wine and other beverages.
Because we would be behind on mileage for the first 2 days, we rode out to Palmyra (the “P” in the PBR ride) on Thursday night. Mileage looked like this for the long weekend:
We’ve gone North & West and since you can’t go East of Milwaukee without a seaworthy vessel, we headed South this year.
Chicago and Northern Indiana don’t really offer much in the way of beautiful scenery, so the vibe was markedly different from years past.
The route did offer lots of places to stop (although some were in areas that you couldn’t have paid us to stop in) and lots of “local color” as Chris McArdle pointed out.
All in all – another successful long weekend of nothing but riding, eating, drinking and smack talk.
As the rookies said, count me in for next year! Already planning for 2014, when we may head back to ‘da UP again…
You might even be invited this time.
Potential 2014 dates:
July 25 – 28
August 1 – 4
August 8 – 11
Day 1: (Day 2 of ToAD actually, but for all of us who don’t get paid to play – it’s Day 1)
East Troy. Nerves on edge, been training and looking forward to this since the end of ToAD last year (like hundreds of other riders). Storm blows in and dampens the course and bodies, but not spirits. We’re still all jacked to race… too jacked. Corners are sketchy and riders pile up like bodies in a war zone. A friend from velocause flats his rear wheel and neutral support gives him a rock hard slick replacement to ride for the last laps in the rain. That’s not a good combination in any playbook, and he eats it hard right in front of me and 2 teammates in turn 1 with 4 laps to go. My teammates and I all slide into someone’s front yard, but somehow manage to stay upright. By the time we veer back on course, the main pack has mostly passed us and any attempt to get to the front is a suicide mission. I decide to play it safe and finish mid-pack ~ 38th of 74.
Grafton. A fun course, nerves are settled down quite a bit. Was able to follow Dave Eckel’s wheel around at the end of the course and sprint for 10th (of 116). I’m still learning how to ride aggressively at the end of races, having been a support guy at last year’s ToAD, but I was happy with tenth. I knew I wasn’t close enough to the front on the last lap, so I was hoping to improve the next day.
Waukesha. I ate it hard with 3 to go on this course last year. Over-shot turn 1 and flipped into the barriers. I was able to get back on my bike and work my way to the front with 1 to go, but I burned every match I had to do so and fell back quickly. No crashes for me this year, but apparently everyone I rode behind didn’t get the memo. Every time I tried working my way to the front, I’d end up behind a wreck and get relegated to the back again. One guy piled his bike into the barriers, went to neutral support and got another bike, then piled THAT one into the same corner. I was lucky enough to be right behind him both times. I spent the entire race avoiding crashes, then trying to sprint back to the front of the pack. With 3 laps to go, Dave Eckel and I found ourselves out in front, me on his wheel. He hit some soft tar in the gutter and thought he flatted, so I’m all alone off the front with 3 to go. With all the yo-yoing I had been doing combined with the extremely humid heat that day, I knew I didn’t have enough in the tank to gut it out alone for 3 laps. I sat up and waited for a wheel. The group passed me like a freight train and I was pushed to the back. Tried my best to make it back to the front but once again I had burned all my Waukesha matches before the final sprint. Finished a disappointing 41st (of 110). After the race, my body temp was so high I could not cool down, or catch my breath. An hour and a half later I jumped into my neighbors pool and sat with ice on my neck for 15 minutes before I could slow my breathing. I love riding in the heat, but I’ve never experienced anything like that. Waukesha was by far the toughest race of the series for me.
Sheboygan. This course was made for guys like me. Fast and flat with just 4 corners. I moved to the front right away and just stayed on the gas with the race leaders the entire race. With no traffic in my way, I was able to roll through just about every corner at will. The effort felt like 50% of the previous day. I was having a great race, until 2 to go. Rather than take the riskier, but faster, inside line, I found myself taking corners on the outside and giving up 2-3 spots on each corner. By the time I worked my way back inside I was probably 30 spots from the leader. Clawed my way back a bit in the sprint to finish 17th of 69. It was just lack of experience, and I told myself not to make the same mistake at Fon du Lac (a carbon copy course) four days later. Overall, I was really happy though. It was fun to race at the front, and I knew what I had done wrong at the end. I was making some progress.
Schlitz Park. The great big lie detector test. I’ve raced it twice before, both times pulling myself from the race after about 20 minutes. There’s no faking it at Schlitz. If you can’t hang, you either blow up and slither away to lick your wounds somewhere, or the race officials step in front of you and pull the plug for you. This year, since I planned to race every day, my goal was just to finish it. I’ll never be confused with a little fella who skips meals, so this wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Even with a long warm-up, it takes me about 15-20 minutes to settle in at races and not feel like my heart’s going to explode. I fought hard for the first 15 minutes and managed to find a rythym. With 1 lap to go I rounded turn 1 and started the final climb. Everyone got out of the saddle and hammered. I knew that if I tried that, I’d make it to the top with everyone else, then I’d fall over dead. So, I stayed in the saddle and ground my way up. Crossed the line 21st of 60. Since my only goal was finishing, I was satisfied with that. Cross it off the list and move on.
Fon du Lac Road Race. When I started racing road bikes a couple of years ago, I did so with not a lot of group riding experience. Well, not 25mph-corners-6-wide group riding. I was a mountain bike guy, used to riding alone. My very first Crit was a 9 corner, .8 mile Superweek race. I started dead last on purpose, so I could see things unfold in front of me. I assumed that this would be the best way to do it, and like in a mountain bike race I could just pass people one at a time. I think I might have lasted about 8 minutes before I was so far off the back I had to take a bus back to the start line. After that I assumed that road racing would be my forte. But live and learn, and now I prefer crits to road races. I stayed upfront for the whole race and sprinted for 12th of 81. Had I been more patient, I would have done better. I started my sprint too early as we climbed the final hill. I don’t think there’s enough Meth in the world to get me to sprint all out for a quarter-mile.
Road America Road Race. Schlitz Park and then back to back road races. Hope you’ve been eating your Wheaties. This was a really fun course to ride. Again stayed at the front whenever I could, though I did find myself on the outside wheel in the wind a lot. On the final lap I heard Eck yell “Patience!” which is great advice if you follow it. Instead I decided to try a Groundhog Day version of the previous day’s race. Giant finishing hill, I get out of the saddle and mash the pedals like I’m driving a rented Pinto. As I crest the top I look into the (very distant) horizon and see what looks like a finish banner somewhere in the next county. Several months later I cross the line 23rd of 109.
Fon du Lac. This is the one I was waiting for. A big, flat rectangle. Wide streets. I’m ready. My plan is to just sit on the race leaders’ wheels at the front, maybe take an early pull or 2 and finally line myself up for a real sprint. Plan works just as scripted, though I still give up a few spots on the final lap. Coming around turn 4 I’m in good position and I stand up and hammer. I can see the banner coming up fast as I’m passing guys… this is working! Probably a good time to mention that my Mom and Stepdad came to see this race and positioned themselves right at the line to watch the final sprint. 50 yards from the line, a guy comes across 3 lines and clips a wheel sending a rider to the pavement directly in front of me. Zero options at that point – I hit him full force and flip onto the pavement. As soon as I do I curl up and wait to get hit by the rush of riders directly behind me. 1, 2, 3 hits, then I’m up and running my bike across the line. Turns out someone had ridden over my back and into my head with their chainring. Blood is cleaned, stitches are waived off and I wash down my frustration with 2 pints of Guinness. When results are posted There are 2 “unknown number” slots, so I go to the podium and watch the video of me running my bike across in what appears to be slot #1, 29th. Once results are finalized I realized that I’ve been bumped to slot #2, which is 51st. Either way, it’s not part of the plan, and it’s just salt in the many wounds.
Downer Avenue. The biggest and baddest of all the ToAD races. This is the giant party that everyone comes out to see, and therefor every rider wants to do well at. Really an uneventful race for me. I was really stiff and sore, so I did a nice, long easy warm-up. Worked my plan, but didn’t get to the front with 1-2 to go, sprinted for 15th of 94. Starting to become a bit predictable when things go well for me. I have 95% of the race handled, and I’m getting good at it, but I can’t seem to finish it off. Tired of using the “lack of experience” excuse in my own mind. I know what I need to do now, and I have 1 race left to prove it.
Wauwatosa. I ride in Tosa practically every week. Half of my friends live there. This is it! The night before, I send an email to the entire M 3/4 squad: here’s the plan, we stay at the front the whole day, push the pace but don’t take unnecessary chances. With 5 to go we start making our way to the front. With 2 to go we ARE the front. Last lap, anyone with anything goes and they go as hard as they can… Break! I’m kind of impressed with my sudden and complete understanding of the entire game. It took 10 days, but I have absolutely nailed this one! Race Day… there’s a hill in this course? Did they just put that there? It’s always been there? Are you sure? 2 free laps and I line up mid-pack. That was not part of the plan. Whistle blows and we start into a nice hard tempo ride, right? No? We go balls out from the start? Did anyone read my awesome email last night? Apparently I was not the only person who wanted to win this thing. I was not aware of that. The guys in the front are just laying it down, lap after lap. The guys in the middle are gasping like goldfish that just jumped out of their fish bowls and have no idea what the Hell to do next. Hard on the brakes into every corner, hard on the gas out of every corner. Hey, this reminds me of that first Superweek Crit I did! Just when I start making up a little ground, they announce a prime. The field surges. Then another. And another. And another. 4 back-to-back primes and in my mind I’m just trying to figure out how to recall my email message. With about 5 to go I pop. Nowhere to go but backward. I find a friendly velocause rider and we pull each other around a little and limp across the line. I’m 41st of 92 and my 2013 ToAD is officially over.
I’ll be back next year, I’m already planning it out in my head. But first, there are kids to play with, burgers to grill and beers to drink.
My alarm went off at 4:20 this morning. I got up, got my gear on, loaded up my bike and drove to Whitefish Bay. At 5:15, I usually roll out for a 35ish mile fast ride with a bunch of guys – but this morning the streets were empty. The forecast called for rain, maybe heavy rain, and it looked like no one was in the mood to get wet… except me.
I enjoy riding bikes, always have. There are a million reasons why, but only one that matters: I find my center on a bike. Sure, I like to be fit, I like to challenge myself, I like a lot of stuff about riding, but it is also the one place I do my best thinking. Not always, but often enough that I make it a regular part of my life hoping for that window of clarity on each ride.
For the past few years, my life seems to have been in a bit of a rut. Not necessarily a bad (or good) rut, just a bit like Groundhog Day. Wake up, ride my bike, go to work, come home, run the kids around, take care of homework, relax for 3 minutes, fall asleep, wake up, ride my bike… Sometimes I find it hard to just be in the moment. I’m sure I’m in the majority here, everyone has stress and responsibilities that can make each day much like the one before it, but it’s still a series of choices we all make.
This morning I arrived at the start of the ride, a light mist of rain falling down, and I waited. I waited for someone else to show up. I waited for someone else to follow. I waited for someone else to validate what I was doing here – 20 miles from home at 5:15am in the rain. But no one else came. I’ve heard that true character is measured by what you do when no one else is around. So here was that scenario; do I ride anyway, or just pack it in? What does it matter anyway? But, by thinking about that decision I realized that I was missing the point completely. I didn’t get up at 4:20 and drive across town in the rain for anyone other than myself. I was here because I wanted to be, I needed to be. So I rode. And it was the best ride I’ve had in years.
As I rolled out, my legs were tight. I rode to the Masters 123 race at the Milwaukee Mile from home on Saturday, raced and then rode home. Just shy of 60 miles round-trip, and the last 2 mile lap of the race was a hair under 28 mph. It was a great day and a great race, but I spent the next 2 days doing nothing and this morning I was stiff and sluggish because of it. I was riding my CX rig; a heavy, 1×9 Frankenbike with 28c tires and full fenders, so speed was not a concern. After a couple of miles, my legs started to loosen up and I started to settle in for the ride. As I did, my mind started to loosen up as well, and I felt a sense of relaxation and calm sweep over me. Within 5 miles I was in full-on daydream mode. A fork in the road caught my attention and I looked up only to realize that I had no idea where I was. I’ve ridden this route a hundred times and I didn’t recognize a thing now. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about – writing a symphony, staring at the ocean, curing cancer – not a clue. It was a bit startling. I circled back and found the missed turn just a few blocks back. I had been floating along in that not-sleeping-but-not-awake state for at least a mile. Dangerous, yes, but this morning the roads were eerily quiet and I hadn’t seen a car since I left. I was completely lost in the moment, and I realized that it had been a long time since I had felt like this.
There are very few things in life, in my life, that can pull me entirely into a single point in time: the moment I looked into my wife’s eyes and said “I do”, the moments my children were born, the death of a loved one, etc. All of these are extraordinary events, and I have found that there are very few other times in life that I find myself NOT thinking about the future. I don’t understand why I wouldn’t want to live my life more like those moments. Instead, I find myself watching my kid’s school performance, but thinking about a report due at work the next day. Watching a funny movie with my wife on a Friday night, thinking about all the yard work we have to do in the morning. Celebrating any victory in life, but simultaneously looking ahead to the next set of obstacles. Life isn’t about tomorrow, life is about living – right now. Life is about being alone in a rain-shower on a cool Tuesday morning and realizing that there’s a house you’ve ridden by 100 times and you’ve never seen it. It’s about realizing that intent and action are 2 separate yet parallel universes. It’s about calling your parents or grandparents and asking them how their day is, even if that call is just a look toward the sky. It’s about loving what you do, or getting off that bus. It’s about being around people who you care about, that care about you, all the time. It’s about not waiting.
I didn’t make any life-changing decisions this morning, I didn’t solve any problems, but I didn’t wait. I got up and took charge of that hour and a half, and I lived within it. Tonight, when I get home I’m going to hug my wife and kids and I’m not going to let go until after they do, and I’ll be right back in that place I was this morning.
This is how you do it.
Sprinting – you either have it, or you don’t… right? We’ve all watched the great ones with amazement and disbelief: Zabel, Cipollini, Cavendish, Kelly, etc. They seem like they were born to sprint. In the modern era, we watch the overhead HD helicopter feed as the high-speed bullet train lines them up to launch for the line. We see them squeeze through gaps the human eye can barely detect at 40+ mph, violently rocking back and forth for what seems like an eternity as we hold our breath… We hear Phil or Paul saying things like “…Renshaw is putting the missile in the tube…”. And then it’s over. They cast a casual glance over their shoulder as they cross the line alone, having zipped their jersey before the effort in the ultimate pro move to show respect for the sponsors. Or they cross it in a psychotic tangle of bodies, looking like a pack of rabid wolves chasing an injured rabbit, launching their bikes at the line at the exact millisecond needed to stake their claim. Then they raise their arms to some point between a crucifixion and a salute, which is oddly enough, probably a metaphor for both how they feel AND the way to see if someone is having a stroke.
So… how does a Masters Cat 3 like me with very little sprint knowledge or experience get better? You ask the Pros. So I did.
“I’m no expert when it comes to coaching for sprinting. The main thing I can say is I’ve found efficiency of movement is very important. Moving pedals fast is the #1 focus then you need to add force behind the pedaling speed.
From what I’ve found sprinting more in training does help. There aren’t many short cuts to improvement. The #1 way to improve sprinting in my book is to get on the track where you are forced to learn how to pedal fast.”
He then went on to reference Wiggin’s stage win on last year’s Tour of Romandie as a classic example of the guy with the track legs being able to crush asphalt when it mattered most.
I’ve been wanting to get down to the Washington Park Velodrome in Kenosha for a couple of years, but haven’t made it enough of a priority. Here’s a guy who has personally been responsible for training millions of elite athletes telling me to make that my TOP priority. What excuse could I possibly come up with to NOT go this year?
Moving on. Next up, Frankie Andreu.
If you’ve read anything about Lance in the past 5 years, you’ve seen the name Frankie (or his wife Betsy) pop up. What sometimes gets lost in the story is how incredible Frankie was, having competed in the TdF 9 times.
Perhaps referencing my own hopes, I started by asking him who was good at sprinting that shouldn’t be. Frankie shared the following with me:
“There is no mold for a sprinter. I think of skinny guys when it comes to not being a good sprinter. But it’s all down to the fitness and training and muscle fibers. Alberto Contador comes to mind as a great climber but also a rider with a fast finish. Taylor Phinney is tall and lean and yet he is very fast and powerful. He isn’t just a sprinter but can do everything. Cycling in a way is a jumble of athletic misfits, riders of all different shapes and sizes can excel in different areas.”
So you’re saying there’s a chance? A guy like me, built more for hockey than cycling, can – with the right training, fitness and muscle fibers – at least get invited to the party.
Next I asked for his thoughts about “controversial or unconventional sprinters” (are you sensing a theme?):
“Not sure on this one. Controversial are the ones that are super aggressive and do whatever they want even if it means crashing. Some call this just being aggressive and confident but there is a line that can be crossed in going too far. I consider (that) you cross the line if you push and pull with your hands, sling riders, or hit with your shoulders or head. This just becomes dangerous. You have to keep your hands to yourself. This is where the natural talent and muscle fibers take over. It’s special to find someone like Cavendish, Kittel, Sagan, that have that extra turbo of power to hold everyone off. It’s more about power then speed. “
Roger that. Be confident, but don’t be a dick. Got it. And more about the damn muscle fibers?? Moving on. Lots has been written about what you SHOULD do to become a better sprinter, but what about things you SHOULDN’T do? What are some of the biggest mistakes or wastes of time?:
“One mistake is waiting too long to be in position. It depends on the race but you can’t wait until the last lap to move up and sprint. You need to be in position a few laps before the end in a crit. As the speed increases you save energy by already being in the front. A common mistake in road races is being too close to the front when all the workers peel off you find yourself out front with too far to go to the finish. It’s good to find other sprinters and sometimes follow them during the last kilometers. The experienced guys know where to place themselves. It’s important in a finish to know where you want to start your sprint. Pick that spot out ahead of time and when you reach that mark go no matter what. If you wait a second you might get passed and then you’ll second guess that hesitation. As you sprint you learn if you are good from a long way out or need to wait and do a shorter sprint.”
OK, maybe nothing too revolutionary here, but the one thing I keep re-reading is “…when you reach that mark go no matter what.” There is absolutely nothing physical about that statement, it is 100% confidence, something I am sorely lacking when it comes to the sprint. I am in sales and whenever a new sales rep starts there is inevitably a chicken and egg scenario:
Should I call on new customers on day 1 without knowing the new products/service, or should I wait until I have enough knowledge to feel comfortable setting the appointment?
Inevitably, the person with the most confidence makes the call on Day 1. The other NEVER GAINS THE CONFIDENCE, no matter how long they study the products and services. Confidence comes from within, and involves facing fear head-on. This much I know, but that doesn’t mean I always put it into action. When I was younger, I was afraid of heights. In order to overcome the fear, I jumped out of a plane… several times. Fear conquered – confidence inspired. So, it sounds like the cycling equivalent is to pick my spot in a couple of early season races and go for broke.
Last question, I pull back the curtain and go for broke. “If you were to train me for 4 weeks for the Tour of America’s Dairyland and had a million dollars on the line, what would it look like?”:
“Motorpacing is great. It’s super valuable and makes a huge difference in speed. Sitting behind the motor and sprinting around it at 28mph will help your power and teaches your body to be able to turn the gear.
Accelerations. Starting from a low-speed and then in the saddle accelerating up to a full spin in about ten seconds. This teaches explosive power, leg speed, and recruits the fast twitch muscle fibers.
Power sprints in a large gear are great also. Same as above. Slow speed and in 53×11 jump out of the saddle for ten seconds and try to accelerate.
Another option is to find a medium hill. Use the downhill to take you up to speed and at the bottom take off flat-out and hold until the speed starts to drop. Once the speed drops then you shut down. All of these exercises are like intervals but with full recovery in between.”
OK, cool stuff – but even MORE about muscle fibers. Let’s see what all the hoopla is about.
Click here for the skinny according to Kelly Baggett. If you’re like me you look at all that scientific mumbo-jumbo and close the link, so let me sum it up for you:
You’re either a born sprinter, or you can transform yourself into a sprinter. I’m in the second category, so let’s explore that a bit more. You’re born with a pre-determined body type and a pre-determined % of fast-twitch (sprinting) & slow twitch (strength and endurance) fibers. André the Giant can’t transform into Djamolidine Abdoujaparov but you can transform into a leaner, meaner version of yourself. How? Quoting Baggett:
“In training you can accomplish this by focusing your training on strength, power, and speed dominant activities. By doing so you train your nervous system and all your muscle fibers to behave in more of a fast twitch manner.”
Sounds simple, but painful. In cycling this translates to things like squats, plyo-metrics, pushing a weight sled and anaerobic activities like (surprise) sprinting. Check out another Baggett article called “How to Create a Speed Machine Using the Weight Room”.
If you listen to those who know, and you want to find yourself on a podium at the end of your next race here’s the secret sauce :
Next month – Part 2 including an interview with another 7-11 rider (and local legend) Tom Schuler.
I’ve done all the legwork for you, no need to break a sweat or crack open a book. All the answers are right here. I’ve been training this way for a long time, so I know it works!
Stay tuned for a follow-up article: “Hipster Etiquette – How to peg your jeans”
The non-cycling community has already moved on to the next celebrity car wreck. I have moved on. Armstrong is a super-human douche, whose achievements in cycling will never be duplicated. Which leads me to today – I’m still wearing the LIVESTRONG bracelet that I put on 7 years ago. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot??
My father-in-law, Joseph Kohlnhofer (seen in the black and white photo above) was diagnosed with cancer long ago. Long enough ago in fact, to have been gone for over 6 years now. He was not a cyclist. He was not even an athlete. He was the product of a bygone era: had strong opinions, paid cash for everything (including his homes/cars), took some shrapnel in Korea and blared polka music in his car on the way to work. He was too old to be my Dad (my parents are still relatively young) and too young to be my grandfather. He fit a niche in my life that was empty almost 20 years ago, and we bonded immediately. Over the years we spent countless hours working on projects together, or just futzing around in my yard or his.
After he was diagnosed with cancer, someone he worked with gave him a yellow bracelet, which he wore. I purchased one and wore it too. I am a cyclist, and this was when athletes everywhere were starting to proudly sport their LIVESTRONG bracelets. I never put mine on in support of Lance or LIVESTRONG though. If he had bronzed a dog turd and wore that as a necklace, I’d probably still be wearing poop around my neck.
Thankfully, no one really seems to care about the bracelets anymore, which is fine by me. Mine breaks about every 12 months and I reach into my stash and grab another one.