Saturday, 23 February 2013

MTBO thoughts. Why don't we ...?

Having started Ski-O this winter and completed the majority of a season, I've begun to notice some aspects of the sport that make me wonder: why don't do we do things like this, or in such-and-such a way?

1) 1 minute to look at the map in MTBO. Why? It gives us time to put the map in the board, especially when the map is a difficult size and requires special folding to get as much of the course on the board as possible. Re-folding means time lost.

BUT, what if organisers made sure (as far as they possibly can) to make the maps for events one of 3 'standard' sizes - A4, 275x275mm, or 300x300mm. There are many boards out there on the market, and I have recently started choosing the board I use for each event based on the published map size.

So why not reduce the time with the map to 30 seconds, or even 15 seconds for an A4 sprint map?

2) Still a little related to map size. Map scale.

I looked at the M21E courses from the World Cup in Poland last year, and the middle was 1:15000 A4. The long was 1:15000 A3. Why was the long not 1:20000? It would reduce the map size and result in less re-folding (especially considering there was a map change). Given how far athletes can ride in a long distance - large maps are a faff. Possibly for some events, a 1:25000 or 1:22500 scale might be used.

3) Why don't we have long mass starts? A common argument against mass start races (esp. in Foot-O amongst WOC athletes) that mass starts reduce the navigation element. True to some extent, but mass starts also make everyone race a little harder to stay with the pack. But if the course is well gaffled, as in Ski-O ESOC long distance last week, the majority of competitors won't see many others on the course except for common sections. When the loops are gaffled, including a long, middle and short gaffle somewhere out there, then you don't know who is leading until the finish. HJ was 15th and 5 mins behind the leader after his second loop, but he had a shorter gaffles, and the short forking at the end and finished 18seconds behind the leader in 2nd place. He said after 'apart from the common controls, I wasn't skiing with anyone after the first 50% of the first loop'.

Racing harder pushes athletes to the limit so their chances of mistakes are higher. Yes, head to head racing is tough, and it hurts. But it's also fun.

4) Why is the red group only ten athletes, and not 20, or 30? Currently you can be ranked 11th in the WRlist, and despite requesting a late start block, you can be starting as the first of the late starters, eg middle of the field.

Yes, in Ski-O I felt a little hard done by, when I was in the first 10 starters, but I also am not good enough to be starting just in front of the red group (a possibility with requesting a late start at the moment).

Why should an athlete from, say, Belarus, who goes to WOC in their first international race for MTBO,  start in front of the red group? Surely it's fairer to have random allocation 1-10, 11-20 and 21-30. Anyone ranked in the top 30 can then choose their start group, early, middle or late, but are likely to be in the first 30 or more starters.

Additionally, with the current established method, I could be starting behind 3-4 athletes I know I can catch. If I can overtake them one by one, I will over the course be riding faster. Seeing athletes who start ahead of you can be a real advantage and can easily lead you into tracks and controls. But if I am starting amongst the 11-20 best in the world, I am less likely to see them out there as they often finish in a similar place in the results to me and ride at a similar pace. Therefore I am more likely to spend the course on my own, so the conditions are more likely to be the same throughout the last 30 starters, with less chance of packs forming.

5) Why don't we have special equipment points? Currently the courses can start at a remote location and the course will take you across the map to the finish. But if a mass start gaffled long is introduced, with 3 or 4 passes of the finish/start area, then an equipment point will be useful.

But the current argument against such an equipment point is that it's unfair on smaller nations. Well, sport is always going to be unfair towards smaller nations. Take Ski-O, GBR send a team but no officials, so any equipment point is un-manned. There's no-one to hand us drinks as we pass the stadium. And the same is true in MTBO. We just have to do things differently: have drinks set up before the start, carry a camelbak etc. Likewise in XC skiing, the GB team is far smaller than the Scandinavian teams so coaching zones are far more beneficial to larger teams who have many officials.

An equipment point doesn't need to have coaches and officials in it. Instead, 2 or 3 organisers would suffice, and teams/athletes can set up their spare kit in advance - wheels, tyres, tubes etc. Organisers would merely be there to ensure no-one panics and nabs another teams kit! There could also be some 'all-teams' kit which is provided by the organisers/IOF. A cheap make-do wheel, and some tubes. This way, smaller nations who travel a long way to the event and can't take spare wheels on the plane have access to kit if its needed.

6) Why don't we have a Mixed Sprint Relay at WOC? A fantastic chance for men and women to race together. It's been in Ski-O for years. Foot-O are introducing it soon. So why don't we have it at MTBO WOC too.

7) Now the Long Qualification has been scrapped, for some athletes from smaller nations, the sprint and middle will be their only chances to compete at WOC. Take GB, last year 2 of our men didn't qualify for the final, but this year there is only one space available, so 3 men will travel to WOC to not compete in the long final, but one or two of those will only get to compete in two races (if a junior rides the elite relay again).

Why don't we ensure the Sprint and Middle races are held on two consecutive days, (possibly the weekend at the end of the week), so athletes only eligible to compete in the Sprint and Middle distances can travel over for a long weekend, rather than have a weeks holiday and two races. I'm sure many athletes would prefer to not take so much time of work if they are only competing in two races, and would prefer to travel for a long weekend and the banquet.

These are just some thoughts that I've been mulling over for some days. Athletes often say they don't want change. Remember the introduction of the Sprint at WOC/JWOC? Remember when we started using SI/EMIT? And currently the introduction of the Mixed Sprint Relay in Foot-O?

Once athletes try something new, they are more likely to appreciate the pros and cons. Just discussing points in a room somewhere and hearing 'the athletes don't want this' isn't helping the development of our sport. I think that athletes become comfortable with what they know, so they think they don't want change. Maybe they do want change and they just haven't tried the alternatives yet.

But I do think, EOC and WOC are not the places to try new ideas for the first time. Start with a major WRE, or World Cup early on in the season (look at Hungary 2010, World Cup, and the introduction of the new MTBO 4x2 track system - athletes didn't realise that distinguishing further between difficult and medium riding was needed. The new 'slow' fills the gap perfectly, and the chances are a 5th category of indistinct might be useful too).