Biggest mistake of my life/Headless chicken impersonation

The biggest mistake of my life… that might be an exaggeration. Or not. I don’t recall having ever made such a whopper in a major race in MTBO. I’m sure there are some mistakes like this from my junior Foot-O days.

I’ll start by saying that I will write an overview of my WOC week at somepoint. My reflections so far tend to border more on the negative than the positive, so I need to give myself some time to see the good in a bronze, silver, almost bronze and World Cup overall! It may seem strange to many that I am struggling to see the positives in that list of achievements this week, but the truth is, it fell short of my high expectations.

The long race was my last real race of the season. With no gold medal so far in the Championships, the World Cup overall title was looking increasingly less likely. I still held the number one spot, but if Marika Hara could win the long distance, she would also have won overall, despite us being tied on the overall score. Such is the way the rules work. I didn’t care who won the race, as long as it wasn’t my main rival!!! As a result, I was going to do everything I could to beat her.

With 7 of 7 races in the top three all season, I also wanted to complete that run by making it 8 of 8. It would be the first time anyone has achieved that in MTBO. Last year Cissi Thomasson nearly made it 8 of 8 in the top 6, but a puncture in the final race prevented it. I also had that to race for.

I started well and was riding well. Never fast, but enough to stay in control. I made good decisions and was very stable/safe. I had a small wobble coming out of the spectator loop at the start of the 2nd wing of the butterfly. The line covered a path that led almost directly to the control and I didn’t realise I was on it. I got confused fell off my bike in a ditch, looked up at saw a control. Checked, it was mine. I should have needed to turn right to find it but I happened to chance upon it. But it threw me for the next control and I was very unstable and unsure, needing to check myself a lot. Once at the next control I was able to settle down and get back into the map.

WOC MTBO Long distance

Back through the final spectator control and onto the final loop, I could hear my parents cheering. I didn’t feel that I was biking fast enough for a winning race, but I did feel that I might still have a good position. A good route choice out of the spectator control saw me take a definite gap down to 4th and 5th, after my blip a group of three of us had been pretty similar (in a mass start simulation). The advantage of my choice allowed me to check the route to the next control and I could see the terrain was good for shortcutting. The shortcut took me to the next control and I was safely in 3rd, about 2 mins behind 1st/2nd and 45 secs ahead of 4th and 5th.

But then, an interesting and unusual thing happened. On my way up the hill to the ‘problem control’ I heard another athlete behind me. I felt he wanted to overtake so gave him room, but he didn’t come past. He then proceeded to PUSH me up the hill. Like my Dad used to do when I was very young. At first I thought it was HJ since this was the type of thing he would do if he was having a bad race. Looking over I saw it was a junior. I was in shock, distracted and had no idea what to do. I pulled over more to the side but he still didn’t go past. I knew I shouldn’t let this get to me, but it clearly did a bit. It’s just unfortunate it happened at the control where 50% of athletes had problems. What should I have done in that situation? Was it a friendly gesture? Was there not enough room to past? Was it someone with a crush? Does my skinsuit attract the male species that much?

My plan was simple. Ride up the track, take the second left to the control at the top. Had my plan been to take the first left and then a right, I would have been in the 50% that found the control. What I didn’t see was that the circle covered the track, which didn’t actually connect together. As a result the second left junction was at the end of another track that appeared to be a continuation of the one I was on. What I also didn’t see as a result of some map folding, was the dotted path that curved off the one I was on in the green.

Below are a sequence of diagrams showing where I actually was, where I thought I was, and my thought processes! (read the image captions as you go, it’ll make more sense)

m1

What I actually did.

What I thought I did.

What I thought I did.

So far my mistake is simple. I think I’m on the slow track. I’ve turned off it (red dot image 2) not found the control and thought I haven’t gone far enough up the slow track, so I turn and shortcut back to the track. In reality I’m shortcutting north to the dotted path that I haven’t seen on the map. I ride along this track for a bit before descending over the hill into a re-entrant. Somethings not right so I stop to check.

I relocate as being in the re-entrant south, as I must have gone straight ahead instead of turning when I was being pushed. Because so many other athletes must have done the same, it now looks like the main track ...

I relocate as being in the re-entrant south, as I must have gone straight ahead instead of turning when I was being pushed. Because so many other athletes must have done the same, it now looks like the main track …

So I decide to head north from the track and go to the top of the hill because then I will find the path I want and the control …

This is my plan after relocating.

This is my plan after relocating.

But then, I understand i’m in dense green forest. It’s definitely not white, visible or rideable, so I think maybe I was wrong when I relocated and must now be too far north. I’ll go back to where I came from.

m5

This is what happens in reality.

I go north thinking I will find the control, then understand I must be north of the track, and turn back. I pop out exactly where I took the original path so get frustrated I’m back in the place I already checked.

I decide I can't have gone far enough up the track so this time, I ride the track to the top of the hill/saddle and then start going back down the re-entrant I already rode down. Now I'm getting really frustrated because there clearly is no path.

I decide I can’t have gone far enough up the track so this time, I ride the track to the top of the hill/saddle and then start going back down the re-entrant I already rode down. Now I’m getting really frustrated because there clearly is no path to the left and thus, the control.

Now I’ve checked the full length of the path, I return along it, and take the first path I tried (which is actually a shortcut). I get to the exact same place I turned before, but this time brave some more meters. Then I spot what might be the SI unit behind some cut trees 50m away. I check. It’s mine. F*ck. I’ve already seen Marika just 30 seconds ago, so I’ve lost so much time.

Now I do what every amateur does after a big error. I ride. No thought.

This is what I now understand myself to have down, and my plan for the next control.

This is what I now understand myself to have down, and my plan for the next control.

Since I still haven’t seen the dotted path through the green, I still think I was on the slow track during my mistake. So I head back there and down the re-entrant. This image is cut how my map was folded on the left side. You can see where this going, can’t you?! The path gets worse and looking less like 200 athletes have been down it. But still, I’m clearly correct. Then lots of cut and fallen trees block my way. There’s a small route to the my left that looks like a few riders have been that way. It’s green, it’s thick, but I’m clearly still going down the re-entrant. ‘I can’t believe the mapper has drawn the map like this, or that the planner and Event Adviser could allow this control.’

Suddenly the path reappears and then a junction. I go left. It’s a bit better rideability than I was expecting but I go with it, as I’m too irritated to care. The track makes some corners I’m not seeing on the map, but clearly the map is wrong here. I stay on the track at the junction which I’m not expecting as the track bends that way at the junction. Grr. Then lots more junction on my right. I stay on the main track as now I’m heading uphill in the direction of the control. A long time later, the control appears, as does Marika who has caught me after making a mistake herself. ‘Hmm … that’s odd. She appeared from nowhere.’

Then the warning bells start ringing. ‘Did I just ride off my map?’

Yes I did ride off the edge of my excellently folded map. This is what I actually did ...

Yes I did ride off the edge of my excellently folded map. This is what I actually did …

I then rode with Marika until the finish, finally some fun head-to-head racing after all that. The only thing I could do now was to win the finish sprint. She was stronger on the fast tracks, but I had an advantage on the technical trails. By the penultimate control I had a small lead I wasn’t going to let go of! Thanks for the race Marika 🙂

When I finished I was pissed. Firstly by the distraction of being pushed (who does that in a race?), secondly by the epic proportions of my mistakes, and thirdly by being a complete amateur afterwards. However I was pleased to find that Olga had won and therefore I was the World Cup overall winner.

As a final note, the mapper was right, the map was correct, and the Event Adviser was not in the wrong to the put the control there. The only thing that could have been done, was cutting the circle to show the gap in the track better.

 

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One Response to Biggest mistake of my life/Headless chicken impersonation

  1. JGrant says:

    Hi Emily! You don’t know me, but I heard a lot about you from my friend Dick Keighley and also followed your MTBO career in the last few years. There is only just one comment I want to make: I live in Eastern Europe and one of my pet hates in O events are the lines and circles that cover up really important information. It is as if they wanted to make it deliberately hard or even impossible to get a good run. Of course, that’s just frustration talking, they are just lazy and careless. At least that is the situation in Hungary, where I live, and probably in Poland too. I have asked for lines and circles being cut, they promise and then never do it. I could scream!! Still, the Hungarian MTBO team seems to think that compared with past disasters, this World Champs was pretty good. Forget the frustrations and concentrate on beating Marika Hara in future! And be happy with your present medal haul, believe me, it is impressive!! 🙂

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