Thursday, 17 October 2013

MTBO World Cup- Portugal

October, 30 degrees, Portugal. Oh yeah and ermm... some cycling! I know I’ve got to rub it in a little bit at some point, so I’ll get it out of the way now. It’s the first time I’ve been to a hot country in the colder months in the UK, and it does take some getting used too. You know that feeling you get when you open the curtains after just waking up in the morning? Well that’s what it has felt like for the first few days over in Portugal. I’m not complaining; I'd have much rather been over there than in England, with the cold wet weather. Topping up the tan lines for the last time in 2013, it was great to be given the opportunity to come and race over in Portugal for the final round of the Mountainbike Orienteering World Cup. And I really cannot give enough thanks to Keith Dawson and SustainAgro Associates for giving me the funding that allowed me to travel to the event!

My racing, for the long weekend, consisted of the World Cup middle distance race, which was last Friday, the World Cup long distance race, which was last Saturday, and then finally the sprint race last Sunday, which was just an open category race. Happening at the same time was the World Masters MTBO Championships; so for my six days out there, I stayed with the GB masters team in a villa near the West coast, where there were some incredible scenic beaches. I competed in the Men Elite category, as there is no under 20 category at the World Cups. So for me, there was very little pressure to perform, and I had the intention of using the whole event for obtaining some very valuable experience.

The Great Britain team ranch
On the Thursday before the races began, most of the GB team, including me, went to ride the model event, which was a good marker as to what the terrain for the other events would be like. For most, however, this was not the first riding they had done out in Portugal. Everyone in the GB team, excluding me, had completed some of the training events earlier in the week. However, with school, commitments and the like, I was only able to travel out on the Wednesday, meaning I would only have one day of getting used to the terrain before competing. But I made the most of the day, and in the afternoon I managed to sneak out and have a go on one of the previous day’s training maps. For both the model event and the training area, the terrain was steep, tracks were reasonably sandy and the overall navigation was very intense! Putting this aside though, the riding was very fun; there were fast rocky descents, lots of sharp climbs and a few fords and stream crossings thrown in. All in all, the days riding had set me up quite nicely for the following day’s World Cup middle distance race.

Friday- Middle Distance race day. After an early get up, well 7am, a good helping of scrambled eggs on toast and some Portuguese sun soon woke me up fully. The race start, finish and quarantine was in the town of Grandola, only 20 minutes drive from the villa. On the way, the morning mist had settled in the bottom of the valleys and it was another beautiful sight to add to my memories of Portugal.

Quarantine began at 10:30 and my race start was 11:28, so for the first 20 minutes I found some shade to relax. We weren't allowed mobiles or any maps in the quarantine area, so all I could really do was dwell upon the upcoming race.

The time passed quickly and the next thing I knew I was stood on the start line, with the clock counting down. One minute before the start I was allowed to pick up my map, and I had managed to plan my route to the first few controls; my brain did not allow me to think about the complexity of tracks and contours that lay on the piece of paper in front of my eyes.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Go!

Middle distance map
As far as I recall, I did not make any huge mistakes in my race. My aim was to focus on the map reading and not allowing such mistakes to occur. As coming from a cycling background rather than an orienteering background, I normally go too fast, and often in the wrong direction. For this race I slowed down the pace a fraction, which allowed me to be a lot smoother and make fewer mistakes. I did, of course, make a few mistakes, but as far as I was concerned, I had a good race and I was pretty pleased with my performance.

In the end I finished 36th, which, bearing in mind I still have another 2.5 years as a Junior, I believed to be pretty good. I was 2 minutes down on the current Junior world champion, who was also racing in the World Cup, which was a lot less than in Estonia for the World Championships in August. So I had made some advancements on previous races with only one race down. What made this even more satisfying was the fact that I did not follow any of the other Elite riders, which would have hampered the experience I would have gained. I saw no point in travelling all of the way to Portugal just to follow another rider around an unknown area. If I was wanting a great result out of the competetion I might have though differently.

All in all, it was a great day's racing; a result I wouldn't mind replicating the following day.

Saturday- Long distance race day. 46km was the length of the days race (optimum route). That, for MTBO, is a rather long race. The estimated winning time was just under two hours, which meant fuelling up was key; energy would not just be needed for forward motion, but also to allow me to concentrate and think for such a long time. This in mind, I had athletes portion of scrambled eggs and toast. It worked the previous day, why do something different.

My start time for the day was pretty much the same as the previous day, minus a minute, except quarantine started at 11:00. I went straight into my warm up, upon entering the area, and ran through key bits of info regarding the race in my head. Due to the race length, there was a bottle exchange/feed zone at control 11, there was also a map exchange  at control 11.  There was a very hilly area as well as a flatter area, which meant different thought as regards to route choice, etc. etc.

Again the time trickled away in an instant, and I was, again, on the start line, with one minute to go, deciding on route choices for the first controls. The red mist of racing had descended.

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Go!

World Cup long race
For a long while, I thought it was pretty hard navigation. Route choice was key, and due to the length of some legs, there were many routes to choose from. It was worthwhile spending slightly longer deciding on a route, rather than taking a bad route choice and loosing many minutes. In theory, with a good well-considered route choice, you'd be able to hammer it to the next control. Unfortunately, I was still in pro-nav mode and I took many sections too slow. On the plus side, I made very few mistakes, which I have gained experience from. But the long is more a competition of speed, which I think on the day I had forgotten about. The race, really, should have favoured me, and I should have really gained a few places on the middle distance. But, in the end I finished in 42nd. It was an ok result, but, in theory, the long should have been my best event. I made some great route choices, and I was on the ball for nearly the whole race (there was one instance where I emerged from the undergrowth to meet Andy Windrum, one of the GB masters, making some sarky comment). However, what I have taken from the event that the long is more a question of speed, and sometimes I need to switch off and go into XC race mode.

World Cup long race
Although not being 100% happy with my result, it is very hard to be as an athlete, I really enjoyed the riding and I know exactly how to improve from it. So, again, a very good day's racing.

Sunday- Sprint distance race day. For the majority of World Cup riders it was the day of the World Cup Relay, but being the only British Elite rider at the event I was unable to compete. Instead, I entered the open sprint race, which like the relay, took place around the hilly, narrow streets of Santiago do Cacem. It was the last race of the trip, and I wanted to sign off a great time in Portugal with a good result.

Before my start, I had already heard news of a bronze and a silver from the GB masters team and also that the master 40 men were using the same map as the open category, so a little bit of pressure was felt. However, with it not being a World Cup event, I thought I could take even more risks, and push the boundaries of my previous experience in sprint events. In Estonia, at the World Junior Championships, I had an awful sprint race, and I really wanted to show myself I was capable of a good result in a sprint.

Out of all of the events, the sprint race requires the swiftest and most intense map reading, and with a race normally lasting under 25 minutes, speed is also necessary for a good result.

Stood on the start line, with less than one minute to go, I was able to plan my route for the first 6 controls, as the legs were so short. But then came the beeps...

5... 4... 3... 2... 1... Go!

Open sprint race

My first 6 legs were smooth. I was moving along at a very quick pace, and no mistakes were made. I had a rhythm going and I felt good. But then, at the seventh control, I took a wrong turn. Although this was realised very quickly, every second counts in a sprint, so it was to effect my result.

I was smooth, again all the way to the thirteenth control, minus a chain off. But, on my way to the fourteenth control, I made the biggest blooper of my race. I took a road parallel to the one I was aiming for, and by the time I had reached control 14, I had lost 1.5 minutes. It was a knock, but I wasn't down.

Apart from a few very small mistakes, I negotiated the final 5 controls pretty speedily. I crossed the line with a time of 21 minutes, which I knew was a little down on Kilian, who had obtained a bronze medal for GB earlier in the day. It turned out I was 8th in my category, which seemed pretty reasonable.

Ignoring my two mistakes, I have to say I was very pleased with my race. I was a lot smoother than I thought I would be, and I was able to ride fast as well as navigate fast. Plus as well, it was mega fun! Darting around empty streets in the sun is not something you can often do in the UK!

Sadly, however, that was my last race and ride of my time in Portugal. After a BBQ with a few of the other teams in the evening, it was time to think about packing and travelling back to the miserable weather in the UK.

I have to say, I loved my time in Portugal. The riding was fun, I got some ok results, gained a load of experience and Portugal in Autumn speaks for itself. As I mentioned earlier, I really cannot thank Keith Dawson and SustainAgro Associates for their contribution towards funding my trip, which allowed me to compete. Also, a well done to the GB masters, who came home with 4 medals a load of top 10s.

This week, I go back to racing cyclocross on home soil. It should not be long until my new team kit arrives, which I am very excited to race in! Check out cyclocross magazine  here And if you fancy subscribing, drop me a message and I can send you a discount code for 20% off your purchase. I'll also be at most Yorkshire points cyclocross races where you can talk to me.

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