So in my grand plan for the season, I was going to tear the hell out of this race. Super-confident after Charm City, I intended to be battling for the win, making use of an unexpected ability to corner (I know how to handle my bike? When did that happen?) and great fitness.
Well, actually that was all supposed to happen at Ed Sander the week before Winchester. Had one of my best races at Ed Sander last season and was pumped to see what I could do out there. And then my children (a.k.a. Patients Zero and One; they’re still fighting over who was first) gave me a lovely cold and I was down for the better part of 10 days. Ever since racing with a nasty head cold and winding up in the hospital a couple of years ago, I’ve been on strict orders to rest when sick (“No, really. I mean it. Rest. Put the heart rate monitor down and step away from the bike, slowly.”), so that axed my grand scheme for Lilypons.
So just bump everything by a week, right? As I found out, my body had some other plans.
Winchester is a great little town out near the Blue Ridge, and as the name of the race implies it was apple season. Apples everywhere, free for the taking and with all-you-could-drink cider. Which led my teammate and race co-MC Peter to note at one point, “apples make you…productive. So the port-a-john near registration is now out of service. Alternate restrooms are available…”
The course was fun, great use of the venue (a city park with lots of grass and some small wooded areas). Nice twisty sections with off-camber bits to keep you honest, a loose dirt wall that forced a ride/run choice, the classic Mid-Atlantic spiral of death at the top, and then some technical climbing before a series of 180s. I had a great start and was cleanly in the top 10 heading towards the wall when I managed to drop my chain, which I have not done in any kind of race in at least five years if not a decade.
I was then forced into pushing the bike as hard as it would go through every single corner and getting back on the gas coming out, which worked great for half a lap until I put myself into course stakes two times on the same lap. Stupid errors, just taking the exit too wide both times. At that point I had to back it off and just focus on riding as cleanly as possible.
And hey, it worked. I started gaining places in every technical section. And gasping every time the course straightened out, in an utter reversal of every other ‘cross season in my life. Clearly, my fitness had suffered a bit from the layoff. Infuriatingly, at several points this meant I didn’t have the juice to get around other riders before corners, and had to take things at their (slower) speed.
After grinding through the last set of hairpins and catching a couple of breaths, I found I’d won a pair of socks from local ‘cross media mogul Bill S. and his In the Crosshairs website, my reward for being in 18th place on some random lap. Hey, I’ll take it. And no extra charge for the bruised shin.