Woohoo! Another podium place in the World Cup. After 91 minutes of intensive, full speed, head-to-head racing, only 8 seconds separated gold from bronze…
For several months I had focussed my training to the mass start. Previously, not really a favourite discipline as my speed was never high enough to stay with the leaders. But this time, I knew I had potential to be up racing with the leaders.
My preparation was great, and nothing was unexpected in the race: a train of athletes that stayed close together, with one mistake being costly in both time and position. I also thought that it would be almost impossible to make a break due to the number of controls, constant orienteering and high speed of following athletes.
My plan was simple; get out of the start quickly to avoid potential crashes and slower riders, stay with the lead pack and do what I had to to make it to the sprint finish in a good position.
Once the gun went, I was legging it for my map, and then bike. My bike was up the front next to the ‘start biking’ line, so I was across it and on the bike swiftly into third place. A small route choice to the second control saw the pack split and rejoin at the same time. Vinogradova attempted to make a break after the first control (I think she stood up to pedal for the first 20mins!), but the need to slow down for junctions always saw the field catch her again. I was up with the top 4 from the start, which was what I wanted.
The first key route choice came at the sixth control. I slowed just before the junction to allow a few riders to overtake. Not wanting to be the sole athlete on my route choice, I checked to see whether they took the junction or carried on. Vinogradova went right, the others straight (which was my preferred route), so I sped up and took the lead through the gates. On the exit out, we saw Olga entering the control so I knew that we were the leading pack.
Then came the butterfly, a spreading method as opposed to forking. Of the top 15 athletes, most had the southern butterfly first, which was mine. Each time I turned at the control there was a mass of athletes chasing. I knew then even small mistakes would be costly.
The nature of the terrain and planning, allowed for weaker orienteers/fast MTB’ers to follow the leading pack, so the race was close throughout. But that just meant more pressure, which made the speed higher and the race more intense.
Coming out of the butterfly, I knew Ingrid Stengård, Martina Tichovska and myself had the lead. We frequently changed positions, but I was in the lead by a few seconds as we came through the arena and map change. I was cautious around the OOB area, but the path in the terrain that was most distinct was that through the OOB area which wasn’t shown on the map. I was heading straight for the OOB area, but realised my mistake just time to turn around on the main track and get back on the correct path without entering it. Phew. In doing so, I lost the lead to Tichovska by a bike length.
We flew along the following singletrack sections, but turning in the controls difficult due to the onslaught of the chasing pack. Crashes were frequent as there was no space to move to due to the young green trees.
Marika Hara, who had always been just behind us, had a different forking at the north of the map. We had the short forking first and the long last, whereas Hara had the opposite and thus got a sneaky lead that I didn’t realise as she was just out of sight.
I took a different (and slightly quicker) route choice to the 29th control, but in doing so, I didn’t see Hara leaving, whereas Tichovska and Stengård did. All of a sudden at the third last control, Hara was just ahead. Ingrid and I accelerated to catch her, and we hit the singletrack racing a crazy speeds. By the time we reached the final control, we all punched together. Ingrid took the left inside line and got the first punch, Marika, got the second from the right side, and I also got the second from the left. But in doing so, a branch from a tree decided to rest in my wheel, so as I accelerated, it jammed the wheel.
I knew then the sprint for gold was over for me, but I had to rip the branch out quickly in order to prevent losing third place. I still had to sprint eyeballs out, as I had no idea how close Tichovska and the chasing pack were. Ultimately I lost 5 seconds due to the stray branch, just bad luck pure and simple. (The 8seconds difference in the result in due to me taking a while to manage to punch the finish after the line).
I am pleased I did the job I set out to achieve: have a solid, tactically sound race and be in contention at the final control. It just came down to a bit of luck at the end. I’ve learnt the lesson for next time, and can’t wait for the next mass start long distance where I can test my ‘final control’ tactics.
Winsplits (Please note, the split times represent who was relatively leading at a given control, as the gaffles have been evened out so everyone rode AAA. GPS shows approximately who was where at a given control).