Another European Championship week has been and gone. Only my second ever EOC week, I had high hopes for the races. After Hungary, things hadn’t gone smoothly. The two unexpected and surprising wins ended up draining my motivation. I spent 3 weeks struggling with intervals, finding little speed or power, and even had problems sticking to my training plan.
I had many talks with HJ over what could be causing this bad training period. I was trying not to panic, but every time came back to ‘I peaked when I wasn’t planning to, will this year just go downhill from here?’ Eventually we came to an agreement, and managed to salvage the final 2-3 weeks of training and make them a positive experience for me. I didn’t do any time trials, or set interval sessions, but mixed it up a little so I could train in a no pressure environment and just do my best in each hard session, without worrying about PB’s.
Although I managed to arrive in Portugal feeling good, I knew I didn’t feel at my best. In addition, I had a new bike the week before, and despite having a strong uphill performance in Einarittet on my first outing, I was unconvinced of the merits of a 27″ wheel size over the 29’er. MTBO isn’t XCO. It’s far more similar to XCM, where a 29’er is the preferred wheel size. Unconvinced of my form and wheel size choice, I left Norway in an unusual situation mentally.
For the sprint race, I was expecting technical orienteering. Instead we had two tricky controls in the old town, while the rest were just straight and fast. Tactically my race plan was wrong. Having spent the night before planning to slow down in the complex areas and be sure of taking the right alleyway meant I was ‘pre-programmed’ to respond in this way in certain areas of the map. Where I should have been riding aggressively and instinctively taking junctions, I was slowing down to check the map and myself to be certain to take the correct alleyway. In doing so, I lost vital seconds in a really fast race. The winner, Tichovska CZE and I were just 2 seconds apart in the finish, my 23 seconds of mistakes being higher than her 17 seconds.
The following day in the middle race, I was feeling normal mentally, a bit nervous and excited for the challenges ahead, but my legs felt off. I was struggling with power while seated in the warm up, but didn’t really recognise this as the issue at the time. I had a good start, taking the lead already to controls 2 and 3. After that things started to go wrong, I was just taking slightly slower route choices, even though it looked to be the best one on the map. I also had a problem later, when, mid mistake, I broke a rule without thinking in the heat of the competition and didn’t realise the full implication until later. I tried to get myself DSQ’d but for many reasons it wasn’t accepted by the organisers, so my 6th place remained. I was really distressed over this and felt the 7th place woman deserved my 6th place, but there was little more I could do.
With so many route choices being very similar in time, it was difficult to always take the best option. As a result, despite the physical nature of the terrain in Portugal, the times were incredibly close, and Barlet FRA won by just 7 seconds over Thomasson SWE.
With so much mental energy spent that afternoon and evening, the rest day was just that. I pretty much staying in bed and headed out for a mere hour of light training mid afternoon. It was during this ride that I felt my saddle was too high. The crank arms are 5mm longer than I normally use on my other bikes, so this naturally affects the saddle height needed to get a good power output. I was over reaching, and lowered the saddle a few mm’s. It felt better but not perfect. What was happening, was that I had power in the first 1/2 – 2/3’s of the down stroke, but nothing at the bottom and was using my ankle to flick the pedal under to start the up stroke. A rookie mistake, but I am sure this was part of the reason for my worse than normal physical feeling in the other races.
The situation on Wednesday highlighted the necessity to have a team leader who doesn’t race. I needed someone to sort out the events, so I could save energy rather than waste it. Unfortunately, until British Orienteering decide to start supporting me in MTBO, I will have to continue sorting myself out at major races.
By Friday, I more energy but zero motivation to race. I ate breakfast and went back to sleep for 60 mins before I left for quarantine. In quarantine itself I snuggled up in my blanket and read a book, something I have never done prior to a race.
With 45 mins to go, disaster struck. As I was lowering my saddle by another few mm’s, my seat clamp split and I was unable to tighten it. I am always careful to do parts up to the correct torq, and with a brand new bike, only a structural problem with my seat clamp could have caused this. HJ gave me his, before running around the emptying quarantine pen looking for a replacement. Yet another fine example of the need for a team leader, but an even greater example of the friendship and sportmanship between teams! Estonia kindly lent HJ their spare seat clamp. Thank you Estonia.
With that problem sorted I could start warming up. Only; psssssstttttt. I’d ridden over some glass and split my tyre. Having a feeling this was not my day, I focussed on getting the 5mm split to seal. Slowly over the next 30 mins it did, but only right before my start time. Luckily I was able to stop the air leaking right away, but once again it was Estonia to the rescue with their track pump (ours had already be given to the clothing dump for transport to the finish).
As if those problems weren’t enough, riding to the start I noticed my handlebars wouldn’t turn left. By this point I had mostly decided to go to control 1 and then the finish, as I wasn’t sure if the tyre would stay sealed over the duration of the 31km course. I forcefully turned the handlebars left hoping to shift whatever was jamming. The problem did resolve, only I realised with 3 mins to go before the 3 min call up, it was the brake hosing that had become caught around the fork. In forcefully turning the bars left, I had ripped the plastic clip that holds the hose to the down tube. With a loose cable I had to replace the plastic clip with a good one from lower down the down tube, and pull the cable downwards so it wouldn’t get caught again in the race.
By the time I made it to the start line, I had decided to take the course control by control. See how the tyre was. If it started leaking, I could do a quick fix to get back. With the terrain being so remote (15km from civilisation at the furthest point) I wasn’t prepared to risk heading out there if I thought the tyre was leaking.
I took the early part of the course control by control, keeping an eye on the tyre, and found a fast but sustainable pace. By the fourth control, I had built up nearly a one minute advantage. To fifth, an unmarked track junction fooled me, and I blindly following it for the 20m the track existed. It ended in the green. Carrying my bike, I got through as swiftly as I could, but that, combined with choosing the slightly slower route choice anyway, cost me 2.5 minutes. By this point I was now around 1.30 down on the leader, and struggling to find the track I wanted due to felling and it’s indistinctness, cost me another 45 seconds. I had long since chosen my route on the long leg to the 7th, but seeing a competitor behind gave me a bit of energy again to ride faster. I was a lot faster here than the second fastest rider in the splits, and by the 7th control had pulled back into the lead by a few seconds. Some more good route choices and good riding on the steep climbs saw me pull away again, but then my indecisiveness over a route choice cost me some time a while later.
I had no idea how I was riding, and actually felt good for the first time all week, but I felt maybe my pace was a bit slow. I kept plugging away, and was able to hear I had a small lead when I finished. With 6 more riders still to finish, I didn’t get my hopes up, but as soon as Barlet FRA finished, it was confirmed I had won the long distance by a mere 20 seconds! Barlet was far behind at the half way point, but rode amazingly to catch up 2-3 minutes in the second half through riding fast and taking the best route choices, where I took two bad ones and lost nearly 1.5 minutes combined!
Once again the results were close, with 20 seconds between 1st and 2nd, 1 min between 1st and 3rd, with 4th just another 20 seconds back. Thats after 102 minutes of racing!!
The week ended better than it began, but it was a close thing! I could have easily picked up my map and gone to the finish without trying to ride the course due to my split tyre. I’m really happy to win this long distance because: 1) proving to myself a 27″ wheel bike is little difference to the 26 or 29. 2) proving to myself I can come back from failure and being able to move on. 3) although I won, and continue to lead the World Cup standings, I have more motivation to work hard through the next few months to make sure I can make the World Champs the best I can.