Thursday, 29 August 2013

Silver in WOC middle

My new bike! Diamant Apex T29.1
This is actually my 5th silver of my career (3 at junior level and 2 at elite) which are framed on either side by a lonely gold and a lonely bronze! But I just won my 2nd WOC medal after an almost flawless race so I can't be disappointed to be beaten by the faster woman on race day.

After yesterday I felt I had to have a good race. All the signs were there that I had potential to take a medal in the sprint, and given that the middle was the focus of my race prep (due to the unpredictable nature of sprints), I was feeling confident that things could go my way.

Map of WE course with route
My start was 20 mins later, so I had extra quarantine time, which isn't an issue, I just had to make sure all my bike stuff and tools came with me. I sat, I wandered, I tried to stay warm in the sun. Eventually after 2 hours I could start warming up. I had the 'feelings' of a good race again, as per yesterday, only my thoughts were a little more scatty due to being able to hear the fast times being posted from the commentary. The 'feelings' always seem to become more diluted the further along the WOC week we go, but already I'm feeling ready for the long in 3 days time.

The warm up area was the downhill slope, so not the easy warm up for the first 10 mins I like to have. But as with everything in sport, these routines can be adapted regardless of the situation. So I pedalled around, did a few uphill sprints, before realised I'd left my chain lube in my bag which I'd just handed in so had a 5 min panic to get it back!

As I started the 3 min countdown procedure I heard my wonderful boyfriend being announced as leading and only having a few minutes until the finish. It's nearly impossible to ignore the commentary at this point, and HJ crossed the line just as I started, so it was mildly distracting!
Riding to the first control Photo: Donatas Lazauskas

First control: right where I expected and so the decision on route was easy.
Two and three: again, in the area I expected, ticking off controls nicely.
Four: spectator control. Just ride fast.
Five: the long leg had already been planned on the way to control 1, so the execution was all that mattered. First road crossing as I knew where it was, then under the powerlines before taking the ATV tracks to the control.
Six and seven: no problem, just take the shortest route and start planning ahead again.
Eight and nine: no major route choices. Riding straight up to the railway seemed fastest and easiest so that was a no brainer. Nine had a small route choice where I lost 10 secs by not going under the powerline. Difficult to see the difference on the map, and everyone in the top 3 took my route anyway.

Close up of technical section with route
Then came the technical controls. Sizeable hills compared to the flat north, with a multitude of ski tracks and MTB trails. The controls in here were well planned to balance the great trails and fast riding. To ten I wasn't sure if the difficult path was faster than the ski track. I don't think it mattered a great deal, but from what I heard later it was actually a fast path due to having 100 men ride it. We dropped out the field on a fun trail, before heading back up to the second highest hill on the area (the highest one we climbed). I was pleased here to ride the trail at the top, after the fatiguing effort to get up there, there was a whopping tree root on the final climb to the control. I rode it, wheels didn't slip, so a small celebration after. As I turned I saw a couple of men and a woman walking up which made me even happier! We then had a technical downhill section where I lost 23 secs to the fastest time, despite taking a lovely shortcut to the control. I also lost 20 secs on the following leg which had a technical section in it, so looks like we've found something to work on next season.

WOC medal number 2
Then it was just the final loop. All I could do was to keep riding and keep pedalling. My legs were screaming to stop or slow down, but after a near perfect race there was no chance of my brain letting that happen. The hills by this point were unrelenting, and I rode up the final steep climb with soft dust making the trail harder. But from there it was downhill. The final control couldn't come soon enough, and then HJ was yelling I was in the fight for medals, so I sprinted harder to get the fastest finish time.

As it turned out, it wasn't a fight for medals. I was safely in silver with none of the 5 starters behind me close at the radio controls, so I could instantly celebrate silver. It was short lived when I was told I had to pee in front of someone, and 2 hours later I finally managed to be hydrated enough to manage my first doping control. Unfortunately, I then didn't stop running to the toilet for the next 3 hours ... !

I'm pleased with the result and the time. In quarantine I knew the fastest time was 8 minutes under the planners estimate so I knew the course was fast. I then went another 2 mins quicker, with first place being 33 seconds ahead of me still. It's a shame the courses couldn't have been longer, but it was a mentally and physically challenging course which more than made up for the fast times.

Event website

Emily Benham, Marika Hara FIN, Susanna Laurila FIN
Photo: Donatas Lazauskas

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

World Champs Sprint, from 1st to 5th to DSQ

What started out as a really good race went wrong in two ways that should never happen.

We arrived at quarantine in the morning before the 11am cut off. Quickly finding a corner to call 'home' for a few hours. I spent the first hour wandering around, looking at the start chute, start kite and focussing my mind on the task ahead.

By the time the warm up came around I was feeling nervous and excited but most importantly focussed on the map and techniques I would need. I was 6th last starter so I knew my result wouldn't change hugely at the finish, but it all depended on the coming 21 mins.

The course layout was entirely as expected with the first controls heading to the specially mown area, which we knew from the team leaders last night would be technical riding and navigationally hard. The course then went for a loop around the ski slopes, going to the top twice to get in the 50m climb the course had. As predicted it then came back through the mown area of tracks to the spectator control before the final loop.

I took the first three controls map memory based on the 1 min with the map at the start. The technical mown area proving challenging at speed but somehow instinct and memory guided me to the controls smoothly. On the way up to the third I looked again at the coming legs, and pulled a 10 sec lead to the first radio control. By the spectator I was a few seconds behind in 2nd but I had just started having 'undiagnosed' bike problems.

Most people are familiar with that flat rear tyre feeling, a slightly spongey feeling that's mildly uncontrollable and feels like the bike is 'snaking' the softer it gets. I had this feeling, but I couldn't see that the rear tyre was flat. I carried on riding being a little distracted by the 'snaking' bike. I knew I just had to get to the finish. Checking the front tyre while pedalling: nope, not flat. I started to think the back wheel might have some loose, or the almost-over-the-handlebars incident on the way 4 had broken the frame.

I took the left most route choice to one control, trying to stay with the narrow 1mm gap between the building and temporary OOB area, 7.5m on the ground. In the final 1km the snaking bike became so bad I lost 45 seconds, narrowly missing a pedestrian on a corner I couldn't take and being fairly out of control on any small bend/uneven surface.

On finishing I was announced as 5th. I checked the tyres but still they were fine. I had no idea what the problem was until HJ jumped on and realised the handlebars had come loose. Despite 5th being my second best WOC result and the initial 1/2 the course showing I am fast enough and navigating well, I couldn't help but be disapointed to be 5th. Even when the final results came in confirming the 5th place, I was still annoyed to lose the fight for medals by a mechanical that just shouldn't happen. I even have no idea how, as I've been riding all week without any issue.

As it turned out, the narrow gap on the map was bad printing and 60 or so athletes have been DSQ'd for going out of bounds. Initially I wasn't on the Event Advisors list of athletes, but while querying the problem I saw I was on the marshals two lists so I corrected the error. A 1 mm gap on the map is 7.5m on the ground at this scale and it's not the athletes fault for the problem. A combination of bad printing and lack of clarity at the team meeting has led the situation arising. One or two athletes doing this and the problem is clearly theirs. But 60 or so? I think the situation also shows the need for MTBO to have definitive map printing guidelines and possibly look at approved printers similar to foot-o standards. An issue like this at a high level competition that has been very well organised really shouldn't occur.

To be honest, I'm okay with the DSQ as I don't feel the 5th place did my performance justice today. I had such a navigationally clean race - bar a 20 second error and the OOB area, but the bike problem just devalued the performance for me. But the split times and my general riding and speed are good indictors for the coming races.

But on a positive note the map was generally good and the courses generally excellent. They were a good balance between urban and non-urban, so it's disappointing the day can end as it has. Fortunately the best woman won on the day and the medals for women were unaffected.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The countdown begins ...

... actually the countdown began several weeks ago, but each week begins a new countdown. One less interval session done, one less training session, one less sleep to go.

With the World Championships a mere 9 days away life is slowing down and speeding up simultaneously. On the one hand, training is tapering but intervals are getting faster. On the other hand the days are ticking by quickly but the hours dragging along.

So what's the plan for the next few weeks?

 Unfortunately last week my plan had to change. Originally, I was due to go to Sweden to race in one of the Swedish Cup rounds, but the folks I was due to stay with changed their minds. I couldn't find any other accommodation at a reasonable price for the week: £80 per night for 6 days is just too much. I also couldn't manage to work the travel arrangements with bike and box due to the change of plans, so ended up cancelling the flight and rebooking to Norway for next Tuesday. It's a real shame as I was looking forward to getting some good competition. After having missed 3 boats on the way to Poland, a change of plans like this isn't enough to stress me out anymore!

Instead, I get to spend a few extra days with my family and then I will go directly back to Oslo to see my boyfriend a couple of days earlier. We'll then leave on Thursday and head to Sodertalje for an evening MTBO event, before driving to Stockholm for the boat to Tallinn.

Once we arrive in Tallinn we'll go straight to the training camp and do some final days preparation with relevant maps. At least on this trip there's a smattering of GB representatives: 2 elite men and our junior! The team arrive on Friday evening for a bit of extra training like us.

Despite how chaotic the last months have been (Poland, illness, Pilsen, Boden, UK) training has actually been going well. My interval distances were further again than in May prior to the Europeans. It will be great to run a one rep test when I get back to Norway, and I feel that I generally moving faster  now.

For now, it's just about playing the waiting game. WOC will come around in 9 days and before I know it I'll be on the start line ready to go.

World Champs website
Photo: Bergstrom