Based on talking to other athletes before and after the start, it seems bets were taken and money exchanged on my victory today! Ok, money didn’t actually change hands, but a number of competitors thought the terrain would suit me and they didn’t waste time in telling me so.
Race 3 of the MTBO World Cup was at Aspet-Kronoskogen in southern Sweden. A forest many (but not all) recall from the Danish Training Camp in 2010 for the final race of the ‘Camp Cup’. It was the deciding race, would I take my first Camp Cup victory, or would Michi Gigon defend? It was a technically challenging race, where I rode well making few mistakes and took the win by a minute. (I am fairly sure my English is becoming increasingly Norwegian. Took the win. Can I say that?!)
Over the last 4 years my memories of the terrain have changed. No longer did I remember the deep energy sapping sand. Instead, my memories were replaced with beautiful singletracks, that weaved and followed between the sparsely growing trees. A gorgeous litter of pine needles cover all the tracks, and everywhere can be ridden at full speed. The hills are gentle and kind on the heart.
I now recall the full sexy horror of the terrain. Beautiful fast singletracks; yes. If the riding is fast/medium. Slow means twisty. Difficult means sand. And oh boy, did those memories of the sand hit me full on today. The hills are brutal. Steep, soft, loose and wheel spinning. The kind that makes one want to stop and cry.
I was excited to race, but not too ‘hot-in-my-head’ as I was in Denmark. I knew the winners would be those who made least mistakes, rather than mistake free. In this terrain, mistakes are inevitable, hesitations don’t even count as mistakes here. Slowing or pausing at a junction may cost a few seconds, but it will save minutes. Really.
I started well, but then had some issues to the second control. The forest floor became vegetation free, and it appeared there were many small paths. I knew I wanted one, but was unsure which. While the map was correct, I had already ridden on a more indistinct path than the ones I saw in this area, so I was unsure whether one was mine, or not. With so many earlier athletes making the same error, it appeared ‘path like’ in two areas around the second control. I lost 30-40 seconds here, but it felt like minutes.
I took the next controls cleanly, opting for a wiggling route choice to the fifth, rather than riding around. I was then mistake and hesitation free until the spectator control. I changed my map on the ride so I rode smoothly through the spectator control without the need to stop.
I took the 10th well, but had issues with control 11. Out of the tenth I started orienteering to 18, but realised within 10m of the control. Then I got back on track, before misreading the map again and started going for 19. I probably lost up to a minute here, floundering around in some sand. Controls 11, 18 and 19 were close together and with little time to map read it was a common mistake today.
Until I came back to the 19th control, I was completely clean, and had what can only be described as ninja flow. Full control. No issues. Returning to the 19th I took a sandy path which cost me about another minute. Had a crash over the handlebars. Emily meet tree. Tree meet Emily. I then resorted to r*nning a bit just to feel that I was moving forward. By this point my legs were tiring, and the sand in the last sections wasn’t helping. Each time I hit a sandy patch, I felt that I was pedalling backwards. R*nning over these sections was easier, although tiring and energy sapping.
Finally it was into the final part of the course. Some more ninja flow and I took at least 10 seconds out on many of the other athletes in the last few minutes, which was surprising. I didn´t feel fast through the final controls, but I was still pedalling as hard as I could. With such mistakes, I wasn’t sure I could take the win, but I also knew, that my mistake time was maybe around 2.5 minutes for the whole course, and therefore probably on the lower end of ‘mistake-age’ today. It was far from the perfect race I strive for but I am happy to have won.
Marika Hara took 2nd place, 61 seconds behind. The young Russian (and countless times JWOC champion), Svetlana Poverina took 3rd another 14 seconds back. 4th (again) was Olga Vinogradova, with 5th and 6th was Michaela Gigon and Martina Tichovska.
Full results can be found here
Believe it or not, while I had a compass today, I didn’t use it. Not once! It was just there as a back up in case I went horribly wrong.