photo courtesy Trish Albert / Southeasterncycling.com
Course familiarization done, I took my place on the start line and waited for the fun to begin. I missed my pedal on the first try but still got a decent position in the group and immediately settled in. For the entire first lap I held my spot, but was fast coming to the realization I had made a critical error. My front tire pressure was way too high for the extremely dry course conditions and was sliding everywhere, to the point that I was coming to a near standstill on a couple of the turns. Every time that happened I lost ground on the lead riders and had to fight hard to catch back up. Half way through the second lap, the final insult was making it through the gravel without mishap and maintaining my spot only to wipe out on the dew covered grass. I dropped into 7th or 8th spot instantly, then had to stop and straighten out my left shift lever before I could take off again. In hindsight I should have taken a few more seconds to let some air out of my tire, but all I could see was the lead pack disappearing into the woods, so I jumped back into the saddle to gain back the ground I'd lost. I was able to maintain the gap for the next couple of laps, and finally caught and passed a rider in front of me. Attrition in the lead group did me a few favors too as two riders flatted due to the harsh conditions and I was able to jump up a few more spots. I was disappointed to hear about Bob's misfortune as he was riding so strong. The last two laps was a calculated duel between me and Jeff Welp. I had the upper hand on the long grass sections, but he held the advantage on the gravel and barrier sections. Fortunately the finish suited me well, so on the last section of gravel path I threw caution to the winds and gave it everything to stay right on his wheel. I somehow made it through without crashing and burning, and was able to take advantage of my road speed to come around him for 5th place. Overall a good effort, but I wonder if the result would have been different had I been more attentive to my bike set-up. However, knowing the best tires / air pressure is something that only comes with experience. I don't have much of that, but I'm learning!