I’m not going to write much about my performances in France for the first round of the IOF World Cup. Although satisfied with the results (double gold) my performances were nothing special – but that seems to be becoming my norm!
I had some challenging decisions to make for the races with regards to my bike. I’m incredibly lucky to be riding for the semi pro UK team; Cannondale Girls. In short, it means I get to have great fun, expand my horizons outside of orienteering and ride some awesome bits of kit. The downside it that I have complex choices to make, even before I can stand on the start line (but I’m certainly not complaining)!
I left for Switzerland 2.5 weeks ahead of the World Cup. This meant the races fell outside of the 10day long term weather forecast on Yr.no. Checking Wikipedia, I saw the average weather for May was 50% rain. So I assumed there would be rain on race day and in the days preceeding the races. With the mud of the 2015 World Cup in Hungary still fresh in my mind, I wanted to be sure I had the right tools for the job – I was also assuming the soil would be similar to Hungary and become very slippery and claggy when wet.
My first task was to choose my tyres. Sponsored by Schwalbe, the team have a great choice of tyres: Burt’s, Ralph’s, Ron’s and Nic’s. I set about limiting myself to 2 tyres, something for the wet and something for the dry, but also ones that would cover the ‘slightly damp’ in between. I settled on Rocket Ron’s as my primary tyre, they’re great in the mud, only marginally less grippy that Nobby Nic’s, but they have much better rolling resistance and weight less. They’re also great for shedding mud, which is perfect for a muddy race as the tyre is mud free between the nobs for each rotation. I opted for Burt’s as my backup, due to their light weight carcass and superb speed in dry conditions. For anything other than a heatwave, I planned to use the Ron’s.
I only have one MTB – my Cannondale FSi – so the choice there was a simple one. I ride the medium frame so as to get the 29’er wheels. Although the difference between a 27′ and a 29′ is small, I much prefer the 29’er for its rolling ability in bumpy ground.
Given the size of the hill we would be racing on for the long distance and the steepness in the vineyards, I figured there was a remote chance of needing to push up some super steep sections. I packed my studs for the Mavic shoes just in case. Two days before the races, when the rain forecast was a guarantee, I put them onto my shoes. Although I only 1 minute of bike carrying up a near vertical climb, it was worth having the studs in as the quagmire on the slope was treacherous, but the studs didn’t slip an inch.
Finally, on the long distance race day I had to choose what kit to use. I hate being cold. Absolutely detest it. It has to be sunny and warmer than 15c for me to ditch the arm and leg warmers. If it’s overcast or raining, I won’t even lose my thermal until it’s over 20c. I used to think I was being tough to just ride in a short sleeve jersey when it was less than 15c but I’ve learnt that if I’m warm, I’ll be concentrating better and less likely to tense up because I’m cold. As the rain started to fall before my warm up, I chose my long sleeve Sugoi skinsuit with a short sleeve thermal underneath. During the race shortly after my start the heavy rain came down for 30 mins, as I was glad I had made the right choices. I didn’t even get cold on the long descent down the hill, which meant I wasn’t shivering at the bottom.
Having only starting my orienteering 2 weeks before, I made an epic 5 minute mistake early in the course, but somehow I managed to fight on and secure a healthy victory. I had full confidence my tyres and the mud didn’t bother me in the slightest. I wrote somewhere last year after Hungary ‘I will go away, work on my mud riding, and I can guarantee this time next year it will be a strength of mine‘. As seldom as we have mud races in MTBO, I spent all winter actively finding muddy races so I could start to build some confidence. I’m in no doubt this has worked as the prospect of mud in a race no longer phases me. There’s still work to do, but it’s no longer a big weakness.
The following day was sunny, but after all the rain in the days before, I kept with my kit choices. I only changed to using the World Cup leaders jersey, but for sure, the thermal was still there underneath!
Unfortunately there were some issues with fairness in the race, with no clear solution just yet. By the time most athletes found out they had unintentionally taken an obvious unmapped passage (more obvious that the narrow gap that was mapped) between the vines it was after the results were final, so no one could DSQ themselves via complaints. In my case, I had no idea of what I had done until 7pm when someone told me, and suddenly my mistake made sense. Ironically, had I stopped to check my map, rather than blindly following the motorway, I could have saved myself a 40 second detour. It’s a shame this race has been marred by unfairness, but it’s not solely the athletes who are to blame in this particular instance. We certainly need to find solutions for the future.
Prior to these races I had no idea of my physical shape. I knew it wasn’t bad, but I also knew it wasn’t the shape of my life. I’m using 2016 to really focus on non orienteering aspects of my cycling, hence why my orienteering season started just 2 weeks before the World Cup. It’s been a refreshing and motivating change, and training has been a lot more exciting over the past months. I don’t know what will happen in the coming months, and the World Championships in Portugal aren’t even on my mind yet – but I will be there!