My route to winning the World Champs was far from smooth. Along the way, I took wrong turns, made mistakes and lost concentration. The overall experience has made the taste of gold so much sweeter, but it’s a journey I never thought would take so long. That’s not to say I thought winning gold would be easy, moreover once I won my first Worlds medal in 2012 I had numerous opportunities to take the gold, but failed to step up on the days to do so. There are only so many World Cup victories one can take before the World Champs question changes from “when will I win gold” to “will I win gold?”
Rather than write at length about the races that led to double gold last week, I thought I’d write about the choices I made this year.
For several years I’d followed XC racing, first via RedBullTV and then via social media. Over time, what was initially awe at the trails the pro’s were riding, turned to envy. I wanted to ride my bike in cool places and on challenging trails. I wanted to be rid of my fear of crashing and hurting myself – one that developed because I was too afraid to damage my MTBO season. With the fear of injury ever present, my technical skills were being held back. I reached a point early last season where MTBO no longer satisfied me. The few international races and high expense meant my racing was limited to a few weekends a year. The crunch point came on the day of the 2015 World Champs middle distance where the torrential rain and my lack of confidence in my bike handling in the wet, held me back.
I needed a massive change. Of goals, of mindset and scenery.
The scenery changed overnight with an invite to join the Cannondale Girls. Riding for such an awesome team was an incredible opportunity (and still is). Being part of the team meant I felt I had a lot to live up to. I didn’t want to let the team down, and since my lack of technical skills would hold me back in races, I got to work straight away.
My goal for the year was really just to start racing. I made the commitment, and every weekend from February to July was full of travel, course prep, and racing. I find racing stressful, primarily because the tech sections still scare me. I’ve learnt how to focus my mind on the task in hand, and I’ve come to enjoy the adrenaline in my body and the thrill of doing something that I would much rather have avoided.
I deliberately planned this much racing, so as to take a ‘year off’ from focussing on MTBO. I needed a mental break from the MTBO training, the race prep and the travel. The mental side of the sport was draining, not to mention the build up and disappointment during the last two world champs. Despite the mental break, I always intended to race the full World Cup season. I focussed on the racing, and not everything else that comes with it. In addition, my focus on the races only started 1 week before.
I targeted ‘WMTBOC 2016 medals’, ‘World Cup overall medal’ and above all ‘long distance medal’.
In order to get the best from myself in the XC races, I made drastic changes to my training. I cut the volume down by 33%, allowing me to have excellent quality and a goal for every session. Unlike the previous year, I actively looked forward to intervals and racing, and was able to find a great balance in my weekly training. It’s been refreshing, and great fun.
By April, I was chomping at the bit to get pedalling with a map. I held off and in early May I went to Austria and Switzerland for two weekends of MTBO racing/training before the first World Cup. It was a pleasant surprise to find I could pick up a map again and not feel rusty or out of sync as in previous years. I was excited to race, and that was exactly what I wanted. Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing! Once per race I did something stupid and rode too far without realising my error.
Rather than stress over my stupidity, I let it go and moved on. There’s time in the future to stress over perfect orienteering. I was having too much fun riding my bike to want to be upset over my mistakes.
After France I did one MTBO race, and one training session. For the training, I wanted to do it. I found a map, HJ planned courses, and I woke up early on a Sunday morning so as to have the city to myself.It was really fun, and it was the first moment I saw my shape was approaching the form of my life.
One week before Portugal, I raced the national XCO champs in Scotland. With that event over, I could finally turn my attention to the World MTBO Champs. I trained my final week based on feel. Bit tired in the morning? Train over lunch. Want to do a full interval session? Go for it!
Before I knew it, I was sat in quarantine before the sprint race, feeling nervous and excited. The start couldn’t come soon enough – and at 13.42, it was my turn …