Tania Duff-Miller got lost and almost missed entering the Bethesda Grand Prix cycling race yesterday. But her meandering journey through Bethesda proved fruitful as she found the starting line, then won the senior women's open race and the $230 first prize.
"I was going around asking for directions, but apparently I have a pretty thick accent and nobody could understand what I was saying," said Duff-Miller, who is from New Zealand.
Duff-Miller and her husband, Graeme, nearly swept the open division, but Richmond's Jon Wirsing defeated Graeme Miller by less than a foot to win the senior men's open race.
After starting out blazing, both Wirsing and Miller fell. But because of race rules, each was allowed to resume his prior spot in the race, which was a full lap ahead of the other 120 cyclists. Miller, 38, led entering the final two laps, but Wirsing, 29, accelerated and won by about six inches.
There was no question how Wirsing was going to spend his $670 winner's prize.
"I've got my anniversary next week, so this is just in time," said Wirsing, who teaches at Laburnum Elementary School in Richmond. "I wouldn't be here without her, so she deserves it."
Duff-Miller won by two lengths, but her race had other wild moments. After finding the starting line, she led early, then crashed. Later in the race, Sue Hefler took the lead only to crash as well on the wet pavement. With three laps to go, Duff-Miller took the lead for good.
When it's raining "it's better to be in front because when you're in a group it's easier to crash," Duff-Miller said. "It was hard to catch up [to Hefler], but I think she got a little nervous after she crashed."
Duff-Miller, 35, is 10 years older than many of her competitors. She didn't even get into cycling until she was 23.
As a child in Levin, New Zealand, she was raised an only child and without her father. When Duff-Miller was 13, her mother died of skin cancer and she moved in with her aunt and uncle. Inside, she knows that training for a bike race isn't as tough as what her mother went through.
"No, no, I remember what she went through during every race," she said. "It was so long ago, but it's still my motivation."
When races were over, Wirsing received his winner's bottle of beer, shook it up and poured it on his sweaty face. Duff-Miller, meanwhile, poured hers onto a baseball-sized, technicolor bruise on her left hip, which she got from falling during the race.
"This race bit me in the [butt]," Duff-Miller said. "But it seems beer is a pretty good aid."