The Relay – WMTBOC

The final race of the Worlds week was as always, the relay. It’s been some years since GBR had a team in the women’s race. Up until 2012, we had a team every year (apart from 2004). Results ranged from a 4th and 6th in 2005/2006, to 14th. Generally, GBR have occupied positions between 9th and 12th. The years with the best results were when a number of top Foot Orienteers retired and gave MTBO a try, but were also the years when MTBO was still growing and trying to develop into the sport we know today (back then, many long legs with route choices but few controls were common). Thereafter we’ve had a mix of riders, from over 40’s (now multiple World Masters Champs), to decent orienteers come decent cyclists. We’ve had Trail Questers too. All in all, we had a number of teams, but since 2011, the standard of female athletes in MTBO has improved dramatically, and thus competition for the top 6 teams is hard fought. In fact, with many nations now having two strong athletes, it is very difficult to say who will win, right up until the finish line.

It’s not just the very top athletes’ who have improved; but the whole competition field. The strength in depth throughout the top 25 has really risen, and that can be seen by the lack of domination of any one athlete. Pretty much every event has a podium of different athlete, and I can guarantee that several of the previous year’s WOC medallists will not be among them. No longer is MTBO about being able to ride a bike on easy fast tracks. One must now have strong bike skills to overcome unknown obstacles, be fast in all kinds of terrain, and be strong when it gets physical. The orienteering has changed and now, most courses demand technically stable orienteers, due to complex track networks and a high density of junctions.

To be honest, I have no idea what it was that I said to Nat and Adel, that sparked their interest in MTBO. But their enthusiasm and curiosity about MTBO, took them from beginners on MTB’s to the World MTBO Champs in 5 months, with just 7 weeks of MTBO training!!! You would be right in thinking they are mad …

GBR Dream Team. We're going places ...

GBR Dream Team. We’re going places …

Adel and Natalie both ride for the UK based MuleBarGirl team. The team covers pretty much every sport on two wheels (with the occasional pedal car race) and so, they are strong cyclists. Competing on the track and holding their own amongst Olympians, and a Masters National Road champion, but recent converts to the rugged affair of mountain biking, these two are worth keeping an eye on! Their smiles and passion for bikes and life are infectious, and the MTBO community has welcomed them with open arms.

Primarily, they came to the Worlds to form a relay team with me. The first team for a few years, but one with huge potential to improve in the future. I’ve never known athletes with more desire to improve in MTBO than these two.

The week wasn’t all emotional sunshine-and-smiles, although 95% of it was. A steep learning curve in the world of MTBO was littered with mistakes for the girls, but once the occasional big error was ‘hypothetically removed’ they began to see that their races weren’t so bad! You can read Nat’s account here.

Strategy for the relay was endlessly discussed – over in about 30 seconds! There were two main tactics: either I go out on first leg, come back close to, if not in, the lead, and let the second leg deal with that added pressure, or I go last and pull up as many places as possible. Once that was decided we looked at who should do first leg, which didn’t need to be discussed at all since Adel nearly knocked over her beer when she jumped up and yelled ‘me, me, me’! Thanks for volunteering 😉

Adel kicks off the relay! Photo from Robert Urbanik

Adel kicks off the relay! Photo from Robert Urbanik

The relay day dawned bright and sunny, and back to the same arena as used in yesterday’s long distance. I thought the little bit of terrain knowledge might help the girls, but I was also wary of the ski track area around and after the arena passing. This area didn’t feature at all on the long distance map, I had no idea what to tell them about this place. Open land, with mown grass and wide ski tracks. I knew this would be the place that caught us out as a team, so advised care and caution through the spectator control.

Adel was off first and was pretty much first rider out the start field! According to Adel, it didn’t last long, but she spent the forest section and first 2/3rd’s of the course riding around a group of mid pack athletes. A little bit of time loss through a route choice saw her drop some time, but through the spectator control we were around the teams who unknowingly had targets on their backs: Japan, and USA to name the ‘big two’!

Natalie then disappeared to changeover while I was left in the quarantine for another nervous wait! Nat was doing really well through the forest section, but misunderstood the area before and then around the spectator control. It’s clear on the GPS what happened, but poor Nat was confused and visited the spectators control twice. She got the controls on the last loop well once she’d worked it out and made it to the finish and changeover.

Natalie takes over on 2nd leg. Photo from Robert Urbanik

Natalie takes over on 2nd leg. Photo from Robert Urbanik

Then it was my turn. Determined to catch riders I sprinted out the start, flew down the hill, barely glancing at the map and thinking ‘same way I came down yesterday’. I didn’t pay attention, rode up the wrong hill, and two and a half minutes later found the way to mine! Idiot (but found fun singletrack in the process). After that, I found my focus, and that my body was sufficiently recovered from the crash, up to 95%. I still had to down some painkillers for the whiplash and bruising, but a normal quantity rather than an I-really-want-to-be-pain-free-and-race quantity!

I didn’t see a soul. Only before the first spectator control on the hill, did I find see Japan. I wasn’t sure how many I could catch in the final short loop, but I vaguely understood USA might not be too far ahead at the spectators control. At the penultimate control I saw Portugal milling around on hill top, before I gave every last ounce of energy in the final downhill sprint to the last control, and then final cruel uphill sprint to the finish. Fastest times!!

Relay. Leg 3.

Shortly after finishing USA and LAT finished too, so I don’t know where I overtook them!

I so proud of what we achieved as a team in the relay, even though the result wasn’t the top 10 we all secretly wishing for. Conservatively, we lost 22 minutes as a team (that’s only taking the biggest 2-3 time losses per rider), and a top 8 was within reach with 3 races that were closer to good than the ok-but-mistake-riddled-races that they were.

I don’t think any other teams had two riders who only started map reading 7 weeks before. With that in mind, 11th in the world in the relay is pretty f*cking good! Mostly importantly, I’m stoked for the future. I had barely crossed the line and got my breath back before Adel and Nat, now affectionately known as ‘Nadl’ (you know you’ve made it big time and are probably on a celebrity A list when your name gets shortened and turned into something with a catchy name!), were stating loudly they couldn’t wait for 2016 and to get a great winter of MTBO training in, as well as becoming dedicated 100% full time MTBO athletes living with me in Norway (not all of the above is entirely truthful, although secretly wished for on Xmas lists?).

The best thing about their potential for the future, is that they’re already strong cyclists, probably far stronger than most of the top 10 athletes. This means that they don’t need to worry so much about oxygen debt and the mistakes that causes in MTBO. Once the map understanding and interpretation is better developed, there will really be no stopping them…so I’m retiring :-p

Photo from LOSF

Photo from LOSF

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