MTBO WOC Portugal 2010
After a successful bike and foot orienteering season in 2009 I decided that I needed a new goal for 2010. I got word early in 2010 that I would be representing Ireland at the MTBO World Champs in Portugal in July. So it was with a mixture of fear and excitement that I set about training for such an event. I was afraid that I would suffer from the “Eddie the Eagle” syndrome where I would finish in a distant last position but be popular because I was the only competitor from Ireland. I was extremely excited as it would be my first taste of international competition. My preparation involved training for between 9 to 12 hours per week. My training consisted of 2 hour cycles for aerobic endurance, cycling to work, mountain biking on the hills around Clonmany, running and core strength. For sharpness I competed in as many foot and bike orienteering events that I could manage. I also travelled over to England and Scotland on 3 occasions to compete in some of the UK MTBO Cup events and I currently lie 4th in the rankings with 3 events still to go. I vowed to myself that I would finish every race in Portugal no matter how tough, the only thing that would stop me would be mechanical problems.
I travelled out to Portugal on Friday 2nd July with my wife, Aine and daughter, Ciara. There was no way they were going to miss the opportunity of a holiday in Portugal. I explained to them that we would be nowhere near a beach and there would be a lot of waiting around at very warm finish areas, they were undeterred. We arrived in Chaves in Northern Portugal just before midnight . Chaves is an old spa town which was situated near 2 of the competition areas in addition to being the venue for the sprint event. I spent the next day wandering around the town to get my bearings and locate the nearest supermarket for supplies. My first impressions were that everywhere I looked there were hills and the temperature gauge was hitting 38ºC, boy this was going to be a tough championship.
Warm Up Race
On Sunday 4th July I competed in a Portugese MTBO Cup Event which took place an hour’s drive from Chaves. Finding the event was a challenge in itself as the Sat Nav I had borrowed from a friend (thanks Dermott) kept trying to take me up roads that were barely tracks. I arrived an hour late but the organisers were kind enough to give me a later start time. Yet again the sun was fierce. I competed in the long event which was 29km with 800m of climbing. I had no problem with the navigation however I lost a lot of time at control 4 because of where it was. The control was on a track that was virtually impassable and overgrown with a bush similar to gorse. I tried to get to the control from both ends of the track leading to it but in the end up I had to get off my bike and walk, forcing my way through the bushes which shredded my legs and made me doubt constantly whether or not I was really in the right place. Anyway I finished a disappointing 13th but it was good to see the Danish, Australian, German and Polish teams all entering competitors.
I spent the rest of the week riding around the hills near Chaves using old maps that the WOC organisers had provided me with. I bumped into quite a few competitors from other countries who were all intrigued to find out that we have MTBO in Ireland and delighted that we were being represented.
I went to the event centre in Montalegre on the Friday to pick up all the information for each race, especially the location of the starts as I was going to make my own way to each race. I was surprised to find that all of the competitors, including myself, had been valued in a “fantasy football” style league where you could pick your dream team and win a prize at the end of the week if your team topped the league. I was embarrassed to see that I was the only competitor valued at €0 and was therefore ranked lowest. The top MTBOers were valued at €10 million. Such an affront made me determined not finish last in any of the races and therefore outperform my ranking.
Sprint Race Sunday 11th JulyThe world championships started with the sprint race on Sunday 11th July in Chaves. I had ridden the model sprint event in Montalegre the day before so I had a fair idea of what to expect at the start and finish areas. The sprint took place in the morning so the temperature was relatively cool. All competitors were contained inside FC Chaves’ football stadium before the start so that we could not see any of the course. I spent the time before my allocated start chatting to the British team and warming up on the dirt track surrounding the pitch which created a remarkably large dust cloud that did my asthma no favours before racing. I had an early start time so I wouldn’t benefit from seeing other competitors going in and out of controls. I felt confident on the start line and went off like a bat outta hell overtaking the other competitors that started at the same time as me. I mispunched control no. 1 but lost no more than 10 seconds as my control was only 50m ahead. I rode controls 2-7 quickly, made a 20 second error at 8 by going to 9 first which was very nearby. At this point I vowed to keep better contact with the map. Controls 10,11, 12 and 13 presented no problem except that I was starting to suffer on the hills from my fast early pace. I got a little bit disorientated on the way to 14 through following another competitor and not looking at my map enough this lost me about 20 seconds as I had to stop to relocate. I was hesitant on the way to 15 as I could not find a direct route on the map (there was none) losing me another 30 seconds. I made a slight mistake on my way to 16, turning the wrong way at a junction which cost me another 10 seconds. I rode 17,18 and 19 extremely quickly and had already planned my route through the last 2 controls to the finish in my head which proved to be a big mistake. I rode along the walls of an old Napoleonic fort to where I thought number 20 was only to find out that I was 20 feet above it. I had to retrace my steps to a walkway that would take me to the lower level of the battlements however tried to be clever on the way and went down another walkway first that was blocked off, then back up to the correct walkway and finally into control 20. Control 20 cost me 2 minutes 15 in lost time! I sprinted to the final control and finish without further mistakes. At the finish I was gutted because I knew that I had blown my best chance of a top 40 finish. All in all I made nearly 4 minutes of mistakes and finished in 69th position, if I had only looked at my map before going to number 20 I would have finished 10 places further up the field. I know that I will never have a completely clean run but I really need to cut out these silly mistakes.
On Sunday evening we travelled 40 minutes to Montalegre, where the event centre was, for the opening ceremony. This involved walking through the town from the castle to the event centre behind a child carrying each country’s flag. I must say that it was quite a buzz, especially since Ciara was with me in her pram and taking her job of carrying the Ireland sign very seriously.
Model Forest Event Monday 12th July
On Monday 12th July I travelled 30 minutes to Boticas for the model middle event. Yet again it was extremely hot and my legs felt quite tired from the sprint race. I was warned by an official that there were “very bad dogs” at control 35. As someone who is very wary of animals at the best of times I decided to leave out number 35 as this was only a practice event. You could ride the 10 controls in any order so I went in a clockwise direction so that I could use the road for a gentle warm up before hitting the serious climbs. The course gave a good impression of what was to come in tomorrow’s middle race- slow going tracks and lots of steep climbs. At the end I felt that I had expended a bit too much energy for a model event and maybe should have had a rest day.
Middle Race Tuesday 13th July
The middle distance race took place in Montalegre at Parque Rio Cavedo on a beautiful river below the castle. I had recovered well by spending half an hour swimming the previous evening and felt good at the start line which was 200m of climbing from the finish area. On the way to control 1 I was presented with a prolonged, very steep, rutted track on sandy soil which could only be walked. For some bizarre reason I got to within 50m of control 1 then decided that I had missed a turn-off so went back down the hill only to realise my mistake when I saw my 3 minute man pass me going in the opposite direction. Immediately I was in bad form and had to do a lot of talking to myself to force me into concentrating on the map. I rode the rest of the course fairly cleanly if not slowly. I made a couple of poor route choice decisions which cost me about 10 minutes. I found the prolonged steep climbs and sandy soil tough and energy sapping, however I was satisfied with my 86th position at the end as the course was very much for climbers which I am definitely not.
Long Distance Qualification Wednesday 14th July
For many the long distance event is considered the premier event in the world championships. The top 60 competitors would qualify for the A Final on Friday. I knew before the start of the prologue that I would have a very slim chance of making the A Final plus I wasn’t keen on racing it because it was to be 38 km with 1300m of climbing. The prologue was a much more manageable 25km with 635m of climbing. I had a disastrous start which ruled me out of the running before I even got to control number 1. On a steep, rocky descent to number 1 I got a pinch flat which caused my front wheel to “wash out” and me to go over the handlebars. I decided to go back to the start and retire as I was a bit winded and knew I had my blown my chances of qualification, however I remembered the vow that I had made to finish every race. So I dusted myself off and set about changing the tube which meant I was about 15 minutes down at the first control. I cruised the rest of the course at about 70% pace to save energy for tomorrow and to use it as a training exercise. I made no navigation errors although control 3 was well hidden behind some bushes which lost me about 10 minutes. My slow pace and mechanical caused me to finish a distant last in my heat of 31 riders, however I did enjoy the course and more importantly I didn’t give up. I would be entered into the Long B final on Friday.
Open Long Distance Race Thursday 15th July
With the benefit of hindsight, it was a mistake for me to race in an open event on a rest day. I decided to enter the open long race to gain as much experience from the world championship as possible. The open long race took place in the same area as the prologue yesterday using the same map. I rode the course at a quick pace, overtaking quite a few competitors on the first 4 controls. I made a massive mistake going to control number 5 by trying to follow the most direct route along a network of indistinct tracks, this cost me about 20 minutes in lost time. Apart from that I rode the rest of the controls cleanly and finished about half way down the field. I was happy with my performance but I had wasted an awful lot of energy on a very hilly course. The long B final would be quite a struggle.
Long B Final Friday 16th July
This was to be my last race so I decided that I would start slowly to cut out the navigational errors and gradually build up speed as I came to grips with the map. I ended up starting extremely quickly and rode the first 4 controls cleanly. I made yet another huge mistake on my way to control 5 where I completely missed a turn off and crossed a different stream to the one I was supposed to. It took me about 15 minutes to relocate. I flew around to 6 and 7 overtaking a couple of Japanese competitors and a German. On my way to number 8 my rear mech jammed which kept causing my chain to come off. I went down to a river to wash it off as I assumed that the problem was being caused by a build up of dust and sand. The problem persisted so I was left with no option but to retire and coast back along the road to the finish. I was glad that I had tried the race as the British team decided not to take part as it was only a “B” event- they had placed great importance on qualifying for the A final, which only one out of 4 British men had managed.
Portugal is a wonderful country full of friendly people. The MTBO WOC has been the highlight of my sporting life by a long way. I was surprised at how competitive I could be, which can be easily improved through more specific training such as MTB interval sessions. I should have used the rest days as intended and not race any of the open events. My best discipline is urban sprint racing. Bring fancy dress for the closing ceremony banquet as I felt like quite a spare without one. I need to run lighter, tubeless wheels as I was the only competitor at the champs running tubes which lose a lot of speed and are much more prone to pinch flats! Next year MTBO WOC is in Italy so let’s get an Irish team together, I know that there are much faster people out there who could really put us on the map! Thank you to Trailblazers for getting me interested in MTBO and the Irish Orienteering Association for entering me in WOC.