Wednesday 26 August 2015

World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships by Natalie Creswick

Forget navigating my way round a Czech forest, the hardest part of the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Champs (WMTBOC) is going to be condensing nearly two weeks of awesomeness into a blog that people might actually read to the end.  There’s too much to tell!

You can read the story of how my MuleBar Girl –Sigma Sport team mate Adel and I got involved here but in summary we had just over two months to go from complete beginners at MTBO to competing on a world stage and orienteering is not easy!  I’ll lay off sharing all the times that I got lost, missed the junction, rode off the map, cycled into trees, glared at the map willing it to make some kind of sense or cycled up and down the same path convinced where I wanted to be was about to miraculously materialise when it was actually about 2km away. 

Perhaps what I also hadn’t bargained for was exactly how much amazing fun WMTBOC would be.  

The first four days were spent on a lake in Straz Pod Ralkem at a training camp, a chance to get used to the map style and terrain before the big races.  There was a lot of sand, a lot of geeking over maps and a lot of much needed practice time.  

Not a bad place to spend a few days

Men's training camp relay map - did this backwards to get even more training in

Amazingly I actually felt like I’d got a bit better at MTBO than at our previous race in Pilzen in July.  I’d finished bang last in the middle distance event after spending most of my time riding up and down the same path trying to make it look like the place I wanted to be on my map.  Things felt like they were coming together a little, I could plan routes ahead, not have to stop at every control to remind myself where I was and confidently pick the right roads at the junctions.   I was feeling the flow!
I think you'll find it's this way

Gorgeous forests - If only the real racing had been this flat

Find stairs will ride down them
Looking Pro

There was also plenty of time to do a little swimming in the lake, go wakeboarding with our neighbours Team USA and mess about on the bikes (oops sorry, I meant go training).

Saturday saw Team GB; Adel,  Emily Benham, Edwyn Oliver-Evans, super supporter Keith Dawson and I head over to Liberec for the championships proper.  First up, two more days of training at the model event...

Quick pose at the model event
Don't fall up the steps!

...followed by the WMTBOC opening ceremony where I got to carry the Union Jack... 

...and then the rain started to fall…

So event one, the middle distance, was going to be a soggy one. No matter, I like racing in the rain, it just meant I had to wipe the mud off the mapboard every five seconds.

Always try to look like you know what you're doing

I was so happy to have a good start to the racing; the first half seemed to go pretty well.  Then the route went through the spectator control, where everyone watching can see how the event is panning out, and I seemed to lose the plot a little.  You had to swap your map over for the second half and my good flowing navigation flew away for the next couple of controls.  I’d returned to the standing staring at the map race pose. 
I'm sure it's around here somewhere

When in doubt wear every item in your wardrobe

Still, I caught up with myself just fine and was thrilled to finish in 47th place, well above what my beginner status should have allowed.  Plus we got to celebrate Emily’s bronze medal and Ed’s 6th place in the junior men. 

Post-race clothing choice was a little lacking though, the long range forecast had been 35°C and nothing really resembling warm or waterproof clothing had made it into my suitcase. 

Follow the pink lines
Next up was the sprint distance.  Contrary to what it sounds like the sprint is about going slower as the controls come up in quick succession in a smaller area.  The map scale is bigger too so every cm on the map was just 75m on the ground.

Fairly early on I found myself on the floor, typically on a bit of path I shouldn’t even have been riding on as I overshot the junction I needed.  That kind of put my head out of action for a few minutes, a disaster in orienteering when you need your head more than screwed on the whole time so the sprint was not really my race.  Still, I loved it all the same and learnt loads to take on for the next event (most importantly - stay on two wheels).

Thursday we were gifted a rest day so Wednesday evening Team GB hooked up with the teams from USA, Ireland and Australia for the most fun two games of bowling I’ve ever had.  I love the way the Americans are so enthusiastic about everything and it was infectious.  Our mixed GB/Ireland/USA six person team even managed to win the second game, no mean feat when they had me on their side; hand-eye co-ordination is not my thing!

Disembodied bowling head - thanks Abra for the pic!
And what do a load of mountain bikers do on a rest day?  Go and find some singletrack of course. More fun times with new friends, lunch by the lake and another swim.

Not proficient enough to get a photo on the actual singletrack

Happy Days!
Long map - All sense of flow completely out the window!
Then onto Friday’s long course.  I would call it hilly but that’s an understatement, around 3000ft of climbing welcomed us for the final individual event of the championships, but the climbing didn’t worry me, it was the downhill.  Having only started riding a MTB in April this was the hardest terrain I’d ridden on and it would be a test of my skills for sure.

All went well to control one.  Control two was all the way over the other side of an A3 map.  It looked like a long way away!
And it was for me, finally after 45 minutes I punched the second control, at least 20 minutes longer than it should have taken.  I think I panicked at all the navigating I’d have to do between the two points and my brain shut down, I couldn’t even keep basic directions in my head.  I began to wonder if I was ever going to get out of the forest alive!

Despite the rather shaky start I managed to pull things back together and did some pretty reasonable riding the rest of the time.  Even though my humungous error did it’s best to give me a slow time I wasn’t last. Reflecting on the event afterwards, the long distance had given me a lot of new challenges to contend with which I hadn’t met before.  It wasn't too surprising I'd lost the sense of flow I'd felt at the training camp.  I had to read contours and make route choices based on the terrain as well as execute the routes on the downhills while cycling way outside my comfort zone/half terrified I was about to fly off and on the uphills while I was red lining with effort.  At least while getting lost I had ridden most of the paths on the map, handy when the following day’s relay was in the same forest.

Long course sprint for the finish - every second counts when you make a 45 minute mistake!

So the relay, the reason Adel and I were at the World Championships, so we could form a GB relay team with current European Champion and World Cup winner Emily Benham.  No pressure there then.

Adel was off first in the le mans mass start.  The relay courses are gaffled. Every rider’s map is different but will follow a similar path with some common controls and some controls in similar places.  Sounds confusing but essentially means following other teams is pointless.

It was a nervous wait for Adel to come back in ready for my leg but I had another good start, I knew I just had to ride steady and punch all the controls so that Emily could pick off the competition in leg three.

Cool, Calm, Collected
Unfortunately, Adel and I left Emily with rather a lot of work to do.  After coming through the spectator control I lost myself on the map a little (I blame all those nice people cheering putting me off) and it took me probably twice as long to locate the last few controls than it should have.  I climbed at least two unnecessary hills on my hunt to find control 12.

At the spectator control
Luckily for us Emily kicks ass at MTBO and raised our team game far more than we’d managed to.  Despite a nasty crash in the sprint distance event Emily brought us home in 11th place, ahead of Team USA with whom we’d built up a nice bit of friendly rivalry.
Dream Team

Many men in hotpants!
And no world championships would be complete without a pretty decent last night party.  WMTBOC was no exception.  A fancy dress banquet with free alcohol; what could possibly go wrong…? 

I think I have a lot of unfinished business with MTBO, I’m determined to crack the sport and cannot wait until next year.  I learnt a lot, raced hard, made new friends and did not stop smiling the entire time.  We were also given such a warm, enthusiastic welcome into the MTBO community.  If I can do one thing in thanks it would be to get some more people involved in the sport back home. 

Huge thanks go to Emily for getting us there in the first place and being so supportive even with her own races and injured limbs to worry about, her Dad and brother, Nigel and Jack, for all their help in the UK, Keith for being such a great team official/post-race counsellor/giver of words of wisdom/knight in shining armour, Han Jørgen for his support and pre-race pep talks, Adel, Ed & Bjørnar for their Team GB/Norway comradery and everyone else I met out there for their new friendships.  Thanks also as always to Nick Metcalfe from New Malden Chiropractic Clinic for fixing my back as I know without him there’s no way I’d still be cycling let alone representing GB in the world championships.

Team GB!
See you in Portugal for WMTBOC 2016!

(PS- I’m super impressed if you read this far down!)

Tuesday 7 July 2015

Catapulted into a world of Elite MTBO

Apparently it's our restless gene to blame for landing Adel and I in the Czech Republic; to compete at elite world level in a sport we've never done, with people we've never met, a roadie and a trackie on mountain bikes we'd only started riding this year. Perhaps not everyone's idea of a fine way to spend a week in July but it seems a variant of genetic coding known as DRD4-7R is responsible for quite a lot.

I have to admit, I'd never even heard of Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO) before meeting Emily Benham at our MuleBar Girl Sigma Sport testing day at The Stable (MuleBar HQ). Mr MuleBar, Jimmy, had met her in the woods (riding mountain bikes I should probably add) found out about her exploits as MTBO world championship silver medallist and cordially invited her to join us.

MTBO, it turned out, sounded like a lot of fun. You get given a map a minute before you start then have to ride and navigate while riding to a series of checkpoints in the forest in the quickest possible time. Don't stop, that's wasting precious seconds, look at the map, pedal, look where you're going, get yourself to the right place and don't get lost or fall off, all in the same moment. It also sounded impossible!

Inspired by this alone I signed Adel and I up to the closet thing I could find to MTBO, a Gorrick Trail Trax event. The map and format are different but the general theme is the same, navigate round a map on a bike and do it quickly.

It was about this point that those restless genes popped in. As I've learnt this week they were responsible for driving our ancestors to take risks, to head out into the unknown in search of new food sources or to discover what lay over in the next valley. With food now in abundance they fuel a sense of adventure instead. "I think I've found my relay team for the MTBO world championships", Emily joked with us on Twitter after our escapades at the Trail Trax event. "This smells like a challenge" said Adel and I, "Where to we sign up...?!".

Friday 26 June 2015

Corona Grab Condo by Natalisa Creswick

Struggling through Shoreditch with a bike box is definitely not one of the coolest things I've ever done. Especially when it only has three wheels and no handle courtesy of the combined forces of Easyjet and Ryanair and when the trendy people of London are stumbling squinty eyed into the Sunday evening glare to smoke outside daytime clubs.

You may wonder what this has to do with a cycling festival in Girona but sometimes things have their cost. Weekend shifts off work are like gold dust so I had to fly straight to the office on Sunday morning, fresh from Girona Gran Fondo if I wanted to spend a week in the Catalan sunshine. A small price to pay in my opinion, until the box broke and the half mile walk to the bus stop suddenly felt longer than the sportive itself. Most people might catch a taxi but I like to approach all things like an endurance sport.

I feel truly honoured to have been part of the second Girona Gran Fondo, organised by the lovely Dave & Saskia from Bike Breaks Girona, it was a very special week. Shop rides every day, a hill climb (10km mountain if you're from the UK, don't let them deceive you, that ain't no hill), urban downhill (to watch, not ride, Dave & Saskia like their riders to go home all limbs intact), night time nocturne through the cobbled old town and if your legs haven't quite taken enough punishment there's a 125km sportive on the last day. Throw in a rooftop pool party, free beer, free sausages and delicious Catalan dinners, what more could you want? Oh, there was wine, wine & cava and a bit more cava to wash it down.

The cycling was excellent but it wasn't just about the riding, the atmosphere was like nothing I'd experienced before in a sports event. The love of bikes transcended all languages and people to create a mishmash of lycra clad, enthusiastic cyclists sporting perma-grins and rapidly increasing tan lines. I made loads of new friends and got to hang out in the area's many cafes, restaurants, ice cream parlours, err, these places all seem to revolve around food?! We did go to the beach once!

Of course, it helped that Team MuleBar Girl - Sigma Sport did pretty well. I won the hill climb and the nocturne plus was 2nd in the sportive with Adel picking up 4th at the hill climb, 2nd in the nocturne and 4th in the sportive too. I now also know that a magnum of cava, won at the nocturne, no matter how many people you share it with is only going to end one way! 

We won some pretty cool prizes too. I'm now the proud owner if a Formula 1 Tag Heuer watch (yey!) for winning the hill climb & being 5th overall, only a minute and a half off the overall win. Plus a new helmet, a gorgeous gran fondo bracelet and trophies in the shape of traditional Catalan drinking vessels, porrons. I'm glad no-one weighed my hand luggage on the way home!

Adel and I have had wobbly seasons through illness and injury so the feeling of power back in my legs couldn't have come at a better time. In fact, packing to come home I found my trainers and running kit languishing at the back of the wardrobe. I'd completely forgotten my back had been so bad the week before I’d brought them out just in case I couldn't cycle but still wanted to get out into the mountains. It felt like a world ago but had only been a couple of days.

Nothing is better for the soul than a week full of sport, good company, good food and good wine and it was an absolute pleasure to share it with my fellow Fondomentalists (to steal Shane's phrase). Quaffing more winning cava with new friends on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Gironion sunset was a fine way to end the week. Thanks to Dave & Saskiafor putting on something really quite wonderful. I loved every minute. Although I won't miss is autocorrect changing Girona Gran Fondo to Corona Grab Condo every flippin time!

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Redditch Tour Series - Round 1

Tonight I made a point not to eat any MuleBar caffeine gels.  They’re so effective and powerful I was awake half the night after every round of the Tour Series last year.  I’ve got work early in the morning and want to avoid any of that 3am tossing and turning malarkey.  Except it seems that Tour Series fuelled adrenaline is pretty powerful stuff too, so even after driving home and trying to calm down I’m still too wired and awake to sleep.  To wile away 20 minutes or so I thought I’d write a few words about round one of the 2015 Matrix Fitness Tour Series over in Reddicth tonight.
My season was cut short bang in the middle of the Tour Series last year with a herniated disc.  It’s been a wobbly journey back to fitness which meant I only really started proper bike training in January. I’ve been doing some MTB and TTs so far this year so couldn’t wait to kick off again with some crit racing. I wouldn't be on the start line at all though without the amazing support and treatment from Nick at the New Malden Chiropractic Clinic ( A huge amount of thanks are owed in his direction.
Did I mention the rain?  It was really rainy and haily and then rainy again and then the sun came out for a moment and then it rained again and then the wind blew a bit and then it stopped.  The roads were wet and then some.  So after many practice laps carefully sighting the corners the klaxon went and off we went – all 72 of us.  I couldn’t quite believe it either, 72 is an awesome number for a women’s crit.  Everyone loves the Tour Series.
There was a lot of jostling for position, a lot of elbows out and finding small gaps that didn’t really exist and that was just in the neutralised section.  Then bam…slide…barrier…person on top of me…I’d skidded out on one of the corners.  It’s off camber with a selection of slick white paint and shiny wet drain covers to choose from and I must have caught one of them just before I skated across the tarmac on my knee. 
I was so fired up in race mode and in my fight to want to get back into the thick of the racing I completely didn’t think about the fact that I could have a lap out as I’d crashed.  So henceforth came many lonely laps as I smashed it around on my own trying desperately to see anything resembling a bunch come into view.  I overtook a lot of other riders, both alone and in little pockets of people and finally with just one measly lap to go I caught the back of group three.  Sadly, I had nothing for the finish though, having beasted myself round umpteen times and attacked the hill more times than I cared to count my legs just couldn’t find it.  Still, it was an awesome training session if nothing else.  35 minutes of crazy high intensity has got to be worth something and the Cannonadale SuperSix absolutely flew up that hill.  Much bike love was going on amid the pain.  In fact, I can’t have looked too shabby as I overheard some spectators on the climb asking each other if I was off the front – I wish
So back home I have a bit of road rash here and there and some nice looking bruises developing.  I’ve never been more glad that I was organised enough to bring dinner with me from home.  Not because it meant I had something tasty to eat straight after the race for recovery but because in my cool bag was a very welcome ice pack which worked a treat on my hip the whole drive home.  Tonight’s Tour Series was a bit of adventure and I loved it, despite everything that didn’t quite go to plan.  A big smile is exactly why I race my bike, it’s just a shame it’s sometimes accompanied by road rash.

Tuesday 13 January 2015

Just a little brief on the Belgium cross – I can officially confirm when everyone tells you its cold they are bloody right I was not expecting the amount of ice and snow I found. The first race was in Diegem a nice little town near Brussels, I pre rode the course the day before and felt pretty happy with everything. Washed the bike off and chilled to race day, however the first race morning was a little stressful as I found leaving your bike in the van is not a wise idea, one of my bikes was completely frozen. I now realise why everyone was air drying their bikes with such precision out there. However it was too late to do much about it so I one biked it on the first race, which wasn’t too bad really as most of the course was frozen anyway, there were some muddy patches that I ran instead of rode just to keep the bike working. Plus my running isn’t too bad so I don’t think it massively altered my positioning. I came 35th which I think was a reasonable position considering I was gridded toward the back and it was my first ever world class race. 

There were areas I knew I could improve on but this was really what I was here for the experience top races, and practice on obstacles we don’t always get in the UK. Ramps, ditches, sand off camberdescents etc.

The second race was Azencross Loenhout, this was super icy and snowy and pretty intimidating due to the weather conditions but really it was more suited to me there was plenty of running, lots of jumps and a nice fast road sections. I was slightly less nervous as I now understood the set up of Belgium races. So much less stressful no worries regarding pit equipment it is all there for you, people were there willing to help pit for you and generally treated you like royalty. I had a really good race, first half, then I made a few little mistakes, dropped a chain and slipped on some steps but still really got into the race and loved it. I would highly recommend the ladies to go out there and give it ago. I have so much to learn still within cross and thanks to MBG I have had a life time experience I will not forget.

Along side me I had a junior girl that does my local cross league Sarah Lomas that also put in 3 cracking performances. Give her a follow on twitter.

This weekend at Derby I rode a strong race and ended up finishing the National series in 5th position…consistency throughout the series assure me of this position and it has taught me a lot and given me great focus for next CX season…bring it on.

I have the National Champs next weekend then I will be turning my hand back into my triathlon training. Thanks to all the sponsors and my wonderful teamies and pit man GaryMcCaffery

Di Lee 

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Into the Cross season

It's now well into the season, and nearly all the MBG’s have been doing a bit of Cyclocross with V and Lou doing the London Leagues and Emily, Phoebe and myself doing the National Series and our local league races. So far things are going really well, with the super support form MBG-Sigma Sport I was able to target the National series as my main events this year.
I am currently lying 5th overall in the series with 3 rounds left to go.  Last weekend was the inter championship at Hardwick hall seriously muddy but a great course for me. I had a really strong race holding 3rd place until I had a major mechanical that left me running a good chunk of the course. I managed to hold onto 5th place. I haven’t raced in quite so many of my local races due to the Nationals but the participants in the women’s field at Notts and Derby is continually growing, which is great to see.
Over the Xmas period I am going to do some international events in Belgium to gain some more experience and try to improve my technical skills before the Nationals Championship. I think the thing I enjoy most about cross is that every race is so different with such differing condition it makes it such an exciting sport.
I am really looking forward to the Milton Keynes Nationals as I’m sure the atmosphere will be buzzing after the World Cup. Once cross finishes I’m straight into the tri season with my first race being in Portugal - my training will change significantly, changes by increasing my mileage and regaining my running and swimming fitness.
I am excited about a busy few months ahead.

Di xxx