Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The good ol' 26 vs 29'er argument!

Not many people realised, but I had two bikes at WOC this year. One, I had last year, my trusty 8.4kg 26'er Diamant. The other, my new 1 month old 9.4kg 29'er Diamant.

For non bikers, both the bike weights are very light for each wheel size. You won't find many MTBO'ers with lighter bikes.

The reason not many people noticed, was that they look almost identical.
26'er (normal wheels)
29'er (big wheels)

You can see the two are hard to tell apart. Different cranks, XX:FSA, twist shift vs trigger shift and different forks. The 29'er has a blue band on the frame (hard to see in photos), but it's there.

So why did I get a 29'er when I've won two medals on the 26'er?

When I went to Pilsen, I took my training bike, a 26'er Scott Scale 15. I was there to train as well as race, but the emphasis wasn't on riding maximum. I was still training for an hour to 90 minutes in the evenings and putting in longer warm ups to form a training week. Whenever I was passed by the handful of girls on 29'ers, I had no chance to keep up. I was weaving my way around the rocks and roots to avoid excess bumping along the trails, while they seemed to just float over everything. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't bridge the gap. Of course, I had been sick the week before and was still suffering a little. I did have my training bike which isn't as fast as the 26'er race bike. But nevertheless, I came back to Norway feeling rather depressed and negative about WOC in 7 weeks. Despite HJ saying I was riding well, despite faster training sessions, I still couldn't get Estonia out of head. I was lying awake at night thinking about the terrain, and how bumpy the ski tracks were likely to be (based on Falun/Borlange experience) and how much more rolling speed a 29'er was likely to have.

In the end after a week of pondering, I got a 29'er. And from the first ride, I knew it was the right choice. I instantly felt faster, I could climb better and was riding short climbs and rooty sections I had struggled with before. The 29'er just made life easy.

We went to Boden for O-Ringen and I took the newbie with me to see how it handled the ski tracks. I wasn't disappointed and left HJ a sweating mess after an easy ride to one of the race terrains! So all around I was happy with the choice. The mental boost the new bike gave me was unbelievable and all of a sudden, the Finns seemed beatable again in Estonia.

I spent the next 3 weeks testing the bike and getting to grips with the new handling and cornering. Getting back on the 26'er before WOC and it felt small, twitchy and had exceptionally sharp braking! Tests around the car park showed the 29'er went a lot further just rolling along than the 26'er, and tests in the forest showed it to be faster, most noticeably on the fast sections. Technical sections with many corners don't show much different.

It was the right choice for the Estonian forests, and I would hate to have been beaten to the podium by athletes all on 29'ers while I was still on a 26'er. I would always wonder what could have been, so I'm glad I took the leap-of-faith. But the 26 is still great fun to ride ...

WOC overview

To go with the other posts I've written, I thought a summary of the week might be good for those without much time to read my other lengthly posts!

Sprint: DSQ (5th in finish). Rode through OOB area (duh!). Had handlebar problems for 1/2 the race which lead to less map reading time around the crucial OOB area. Quick check of the map, thought I was ok. Sadly not. Was 1st at first radio and 2nd at spectator. Next year ...

Middle: 2nd. Great race. Leading at 2nd radio (or 2nd). Cleanly through technical final section. 33 seconds from gold, 90 seconds ahead of bronze. Next year ...

Long: 4th, good race. Some small 30 sec route choice errors (2x), and a problem control where I was mildly out of control! 50 seconds from bronze, but best GB long result (incl. foot-o) so not remotely disappointed. Next year ...

Now looking forward to getting in another hard year of training for WOC in Poland in 2014. Consistent results this year, just need a little more consistency at the top end to make it 3 medals. Close this year, but still more work to do!

World Champs Long Distance

The WOC week was an unusually busy one. I almost didn't stop from Sunday until Relay day, when I finally managed to find a little time to rest. The British guys didn't want me in their relay team (!) and I was happy to sit it out and watch the races instead. However the courses and terrain looked exceptionally exciting so I was a little disappointed to be sat on the asphalt all day rather than pedalling around an awesome area.

Early part of long distance (Cont. 3 - 30secs)
With a DSQ and a 2nd place so far in the week, I felt the long distance would decide my fate: whether or not to go to the World Cup final in Portugal or not. I was feeling super motivated though, as my GPS tracking and split times from sprint and middle were rather good and close to Laurila and Hara. So I knew my speed was good, but with no preparation for the long what-so-ever I knew this race would mean I had to make all the right decisions out there as everything would be unexpected. I managed to find a few hours to study the map but it was a small amount in comparison to the other races.

I was lucky (and for once happy) to be seeded first of the red group so I knew I should catch the three starters ahead of me. I actually never saw them, I guess some different routes early one. Mickevicuite LTU started 12 minutes ahead and I was doubtful whether I could catch her, but I thought it might be close near the finish. I didn't bother looking at the start list in any more detail as the fast terrain would mean I shouldn't see many people ahead, nor be caught from later starters.

A small rush in the minutes before the start as I changed from leaking Camelbak (a relic of EYOC 2005, kjempe mouldy and generally gross) to a bottle. With a few seconds to spare I was ushered into the -3minute box where I could run through my race mentally for a few minutes.

The long legs (Cont. 9 - 30secs)
I knew the race would be one of pain for 90 minutes, but with 12km less than the men, I also thought our winning times might be longer than expected. My success (or lack of) in the long races in recent years has been more a mental problem than a physical one. But this year I knew my training was good and that my head was also good for orienteering in this terrain, so the positive mindset enabled me to maintain a high pace throughout.

I lost 30 seconds to the 3rd control, it seems the ski track was faster than the straighter option, but I soon regained places after the spectator control. From control 5 onwards the athletes order remained similar Hara, Laurila, Thomasson, me, Hoffman, Sogaard, with only a few changes here and there. Once out of the butterfly loop the order was set for the final results. I was riding well from the start and my speed enabled me (along with a handful of others) to set a gap to the rest of the field. I was undecided on the long leg and choose to take the southern route over the marsh rather than head north. I felt my route was a little shorter, but in the end it was 30 seconds longer. Slowly I had to regain places again but a technical butterfly helped.
Butterfly (I had 16 first loop, 12 second)

Control 13 was problematic for me in many ways. Firstly I hadn't found any good route, so took the shortest that weaved around the straight line. I had to pause a few times on the leg to really get it sussed. I also was struggling to map read and bike (just for this one control) and even went on to miss the junction I wanted, losing 45 seconds as I turned around. Everything that could go wrong, did here, and it was probably this more than anything else that cost me the bronze in the race.

Photo N. Vinogradova
Coming out of the butterfly we had some long transport legs south, I had to keep pushing on and now things were really feeling tough. Judging by the GPS, Thomasson SWE and I were together at the 4th last control, but she took a far better route out than I, and I lost the time again. She also had a stronger finish so I doubt from this point I could have made it to bronze anyway.

At the finish I was exhausted. My first long race I have been properly motivated for, and it was 17 minutes over the estimated winning time, and 5 minutes down on the leader Hara FIN. Silver was reachable, 2 minutes ahead, and bronze certainly attainable with a few better routes.

Photo N. Vinogradova
The rest of the afternoon was spent feeling ill with stomach problems, so I was not in such a great mood. Come the prize giving and I was feeling better but still prone to cramps. Sadly we couldn't stay for the banquet as we had a boat to catch, so I missed finding out I was 2nd in Michi Gigon's dreamteam!