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!)