MTBO Worlds and the World Cup

Four MTBO-ers had the opportunity to represent Orienteering USA this past summer at the Masters World Championships and World Cup races in Orleans, France, and the World Championships in Vilnius, Lithuania. Each country had vastly different terrain from the other, which is why orienteering in other parts of the world is such a great opportunity to see a variety of maps and conditions. Read on for some brief race descriptions and results from this summer’s international MTBO events.

Congratulations are in order for long-time foot orienteer turned stellar MTBO-er, Joe Brautigam (WCOC), who started off the Masters World Championships with a 6th place finish in the Sprint. Set on the University of Orleans campus, riders could cut through any terrain other than that mapped as olive-green/private property, which made the course and route choices interesting and varied. With canopies and buildings, it felt like a Foot-O race on wheels. All categories had two maps with around 25 controls.

Sue Grandjean and Abra McNair (CROC), both raced W21, with placings that weren’t very representative of their love of campus sprints. Abra flatted at control nine and then stopped again to pump more air in at control eleven, but that still couldn’t excuse some of the navigation errors or slow transitions that happened on the course.

"Les Labyrinthes" was an appropriate name for portions of the Middle Distance, which was a blend of high speed straightaways leading you into tight webs of trails that forced you to slow down and concentrate. It was a challenge to switch between the two formats. The maze of trails must have left all our heads spinning, as Sue (after having a really great race up to this point) mistook control 7 for 17, Abra had a "moment" at what should have been a very simple trip from control five to six, and Joe mispunched. While the French races had barely any elevation change, they had great course setting and their own variety of challenges.

If there is a French word for "Hammer Fest," the Long Distance may have been a good opportunity to use it. The combination of long, fairly simple route choices, barely any elevation change, and bumpy dirt roads or grassy paths meant you had to sit in and pedal while trying to maintain focus and read ahead. There wasn’t any time for your legs to recover — just keep pedaling! Joe left it all on the course and took 16th place, just 18 minutes back from the leader. Abra and Sue were both about 25 minutes behind the W21 winner in 31st and 33rd positions.

Just a few weeks later, the MTBO World Championships were held in Lithuania. Rachel Furman (pictured at left) of Little Rock, AR, who had just finished the Adventure Race World Championships—with her team placing 17th!—joined Abra and Sue to compete for Team USA. (You can read a more in-depth account of their World Championship adventures in ONA’s upcoming print edition.)

All five events were held within Vilnius’ city limits, which is an incredible feat. The terrain was challenging, both in the network of trails and technical riding. When paired with creative course setting and opportunities for off-trail riding on all maps except the Sprint, it made for a fantastic week of racing.

The Champs started off with a wet Middle Distance course. The rain arrived in full force the day before what would soon become the week’s most challenging and steepest riding terrain. Slippery roots and muddy sections teamed up to create a lot of “hike-a-bike opportunities.” It was a rough way to begin the week -- this race felt much more like survival than a competition. Winning times were about 15 minutes slower than projected due to the weather and the terrain.  Sue had the best finish of the three, placing 42nd. (Map)

New to the Champs was an official Mass Start Relay, which followed the Middle event. Each rider received what can only be called a “packet” of four stapled maps just 15 seconds before the start whistle, then exchanged those four for a fifth and final map on the last loop. The use of maps was very creative and engaging, with scale changes adding even more chaos to the mix. Sue placed 37th, Abra 39th, Rachel 43rd.  

What, three days of racing, you say? Yes! The Team Relay was next. Back in the same area as the Mass Start, but with the addition of a section of spaghetti trail networks to add a little excitement and mental games. Relays always seem to help point out how our small mistakes can build up to a lot of time loss, but we generally felt okay about how consistent our times were with each other.

A little rest day led us up to the Long Distance, which we overheard being described as more similar in style to a Middle. Whereas the race in France had classic long distance legs with more simple navigation, this course kept you thinking the entire time. And it lived up to its name -- it was LONG. It felt like we had to make a route choice for almost every control, leaving our legs and brains exhausted by the time we finished. A race caliber very worthy of the World Championships. (Map)

The week’s final race was a Sprint through the heart of Vilnius’ old town, right next to a beautiful cathedral and just down the hillside from an old castle tower. Our race went through a mix of manicured gardens, residential courtyards, and rooty park trails. It was a fabulous way to end a week of challenging races, and a really wonderful way to share MTBO with people visiting and living in Vilnius. Also similar to France, this sprint used many Foot-O features and symbols, essentially just adding a little biking speed to your urban sprint race.

With drones, television footage, professional announcers, and a finish chute directly in front of the Vilnius old town cathedral, the organizers really did a great job making this a flashy event. Our top finish was Abra in 40th, just 9:45 back on the winning time. (Map)

Needless to say, we were mentally and physically exhausted by now. Like any orienteer, we left Lithuania thinking more about improving route memorization, reading ahead, seeing all the options, and where we could drop seconds (or minutes!). We also left very grateful for yet another opportunity to represent OUSA internationally. Every time we ride a new map or attend a new event, we acquire more skills and ideas for sharing MTBO with our fellow US orienteers.   

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posted 28 September 2017