Cyclocross Magazine columnist Paul Warloski profiles his return to cyclocross after a near-devastating injury. Follow Paul as he takes us along for a ride of trials and tribulations of a cyclocrosser with a refreshed perspective. If you missed it, check out Paul’s last column, Why Cyclocross Is More Fun Than Crits.

It’s Always a Good Day to Ride: And Now The Real Fun Begins

by Paul Warloski

Paul is ready to ride - stop by and see him at the USGP today! Photo courtesy of Paul Warloski

Paul is ready to ride - stop by and see him at the USGP today! Photo courtesy of Paul Warloski

By the time you read this today, the mwi cross circus will have gathered under the black and green tent near the start line in Sun Prairie, WI for the first weekend of the USGP.

It’s the start of the racing, the travel, the camaraderie, and off-camber downhill turns. The heckling, suffering, mud, and crashes.

I’m so stoked.

Last Sunday, some of us drove down to Jackson Park on the south side of Chicago for the first Chicago Cross Cup race. I usually really enjoy this race, and it was my first race back after the crash two years ago. This year was my first attempt at the Cat. 1 / 2 race.

The race went well for the first race of the year. The course was twisty and greasy with the day’s rain making the grass slick. I was thrilled to not get passed by the winner, local pro Mike Sherer.

The previous weekend, as a last attempt at tightening some technical skills, friends Mike, Ross, and I took the cross bikes through the trails along the Milwaukee River. It was an amazing day of riding single track and open paths, as well as getting used to the awesome new Orbea Terra.

Mike, Ross and I are part of the mwi cross team, a small cyclocross team based in Milwaukee. Mike is the manager and founder of the team. There are just a few of us: ten of us in Milwaukee and a few others scattered in the Midwest.

mwi cross used to be known just as my wife inc, an attempt to honor the wives and supporters who make our racing possible. We’ve been slowly expanding the family, bringing on riders who share our love of cyclocross.

Some of us race on the road or on mountain bikes during the off-season. But it’s ’cross that gets us fired up, makes us wake up in the morning checking the weather and hoping for rain.

Our big news this year is bringing a young stud to mwi cross. We decided to use what little reputation and presence we have in the cross world to help a junior, Ian Haupt, reach some of his racing goals.

Ian is a former junior national champion who lives in the Milwaukee area. A young man of few words, he said his only goal is to win nationals, in Madison in the middle of winter, in bare hands and bare legs.

You have to like that kind of determination.

Since Mike is widely respected in the industry in the area as a mechanic and bike shop manager, he’s been able to find some solid sponsorships — Orbea Terra ’cross bikes, Corsa wheels, Giro helmets and gloves — that are just starting to take hold.

It’s an incredible feeling to be part of the mwi cross circus. Our pink tent has lots of visitors, partially because Mike has worked the pits for Molly Cameron, former world champion Erwin Vervecken, and many others.

But lot of pros also stop by for the cupcakes too. They’ve learned that Mike’s wife, Jessica, often has her famous LeBam Bakery cupcakes in the tent. The cupcakes are actually what drew Ian to the team.

We affectionately call the tent and its visitors the “traveling mwi circus.” And I love it.

The Saturday ride with Mike and Ross reminded me of how much I miss the circus in the off-season. There’s a bond between us that develops through travel and spending long days at the races. The extended family of Lyne, Molly, and Craig all arrived at the Heenan house Thursday night.

I’ve decided to race most of the season with Mike and other teammates in the 30 or 35 plus division races. I’m not certain, but there may have been some trash talk happening within the team about whether, as the old man of the team, I could beat any of the youngsters, particularly Coach Crusty.

It’s so on.

(When I beat Coach Crusty, I’ll make sure I let you know!)

On Wednesdays mwi cross hosts a cross practice at Kletzsch Park in Milwaukee. We practice starts, barriers, and do some technical loops with lots of off-camber turns.

Part of the course runs on soccer fields, and this week, several local youth teams were practicing. One of the fields was filled with boys, who were maybe eight or nine, chasing soccer balls all over the field.

I’m not sure if the coach was brilliant or unorganized but it appeared as though he dumped out a bag full of balls and told the whole team of 10 kids to keep the balls moving as they ran to the tree on the other side of the filed.

They were yelling, hooting, running around like crazy kids having a boatload of fun.

We were nearly done with practice as we watched them. I told Patrick, another teammate, that those kids would be part of my next column.

“Why?”

“They’re just like us,” I told him.  “No, that’s not it. If we’re doing this right, we’re just like them.”

I’ve worked nearly as hard this year on creating a positive mental attitude as I have on the physical end of training. The first three weeks of school have been the best in 18 years of teaching. We have great kids, true, and I’ve really worked on always choosing to smile.

But that’s evidence of progress.

I’ve always loved the crazy courses JP creates at Sun Prairie. There will be a lot of potential WFQ (Warloski Fun Quotient) points at stake. If I’m having fun and smiling when I finish, I get the points.

The race has a stacked field in the 35 plus, with lots of seriously fast old guys. The big test for me this weekend – and the season – will be the balance between riding as hard as I can and also feeling content with whatever place I get. It’s always hard to manage or disregard our expectations for performance.

If you’re there, holler at me or heckle me about my barrier remounts. Come up with good heckles. Last year, a woman shouted the bet heckle ever: “Your wife wants her money back; you’re not going fast enough!”

Top that!

And thanks for reading.

Paul Warloski races cyclocross for the my wife inc cyclocross team in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is 47 and a middle school English teacher. He was nearly killed in a 2009 crash when a large pick up truck broadsided him on a training ride. In this column, he is documenting a year learning how to be positive regardless of results. He maintains an irregular blog at http://warloski.blogspot.com and his race reports, along with reports from the rest of the mwi crew, can be found at http://mwicrossteam.blogspot.com.