It was supposed to be a good day. I remembered everything in my race bag, the weather overnight and into the morning held off. Temperatures were in the low-teens, so I wasn't worried about warmers or embro and the course, while nicely worn in by the C and A fields wasn't as chewed up as it usually is by the time my group toed the line as 1:15PM. In short, I was looking forward to a glorious day out after proving to myself last week that I still had it. On the drive in, we were treated to a glorious display of early morning light breaking through the clouds in the Valley.
The ValleyCross Cultus Lake course was also the first "new" course I've raced in a while, meaning I had no idea what to expect. The preview map showed a fairly twisty course without many straight sectors where I'd be out-gunned by the power riders in the field. There were, however, three sand sectors to contend with: a sweeping left 180 that got pretty deep right around the apex, a fairly packed down straight stretch leading back into the trees, and a short pit. During pre-ride, I had some issues figuring out the right line for the first sector, but was able to dial it in enough to make it rideable. Aside from that, I knew my biggest obstacle was going to be ALL THE TURNS. It was getting dizzying just following them during my recon runs and a bunch of us were joking that we'd probably get dizzier from going around and around than from exertion. The key here would be to get a great start and into the lead group early.
As soon as they staged us I knew I was going to have a problem; as good as I usually am about finding a good spot, I got swarmed from the sides and ended up three rows back and couldn't fit my way far enough forward heading into the first few turns. To those who saw me race today, I accept your heckles. I know that running those corners wasn't super elegant, but it's been strategically successful in the past. Not so today; the first turn was too fast and wide of a sweeper to produce enough congestion for me to prance through. OK, on to plan B: settle in and start finding opportunities to pick off riders.
I managed to use aggressive cornering to make up a few places and found myself glued to the back wheel of one rider for about half a lap, but simply could not find a way around him. Kudos to him for protecting his space. Another feature of the course is a concrete step-up a little higher than a typical curb. I'd been able to pop over it during pre-ride, but just wasn't confident enough to do it consistently at race pace, so chose to run it and this is where I ended my race halfway through lap two. After successfully stepping over it, I botched my remount. I think my wheel had turned to the left just enough that when I hopped back on, I went over the bars and landed on my bike, in the process warping my front wheel enough for it to rub the inside of the fork crown. The worst part was that I had kneecapped myself in the process and after waiting a few moments for the feeling to unsuccessfully return to that leg, that pretty much sealed the deal. I limped over to the commissaire to pull myself out and go find first-aid to deal with scrubbing out the wound.
I think the toughest part of today has been coming to terms with the up and down nature this season has been for me so far. I know that when I'm on form, I can be competitive, but that one small incident can take me out and has a way of totally throwing off my rhythm. Looking at the calendar of events I've been shooting for, there are two VCXC Series races left, a double-header Cross on the Rock weekend in Nanaimo in two weeks. I suppose I could start looking at racing my way back into shape and aiming for the late-season Cascade Cross and MFG events to fill out my calendar, but part of me also wants to pull the plug on this year and start with a fresh slate next season.