Team USA/Germany rolled into Vilnius, Lithuania last Saturday morning at 1:00am. This was after a long haul drive all the way across Poland. Hendrik drove us 664.2 miles, which would land you somewhere between Missoula and Bozeman, MT if driving from Portland. We were all in this enormous van that Hendrik and his father use for their steel working company. See if you can spot Sue in the photo below:
Anke’s mom also made us some delicious Plum Kuchen and Quark Kuchen for the road.
Sunday evening we headed into downtown/old town Vilnius for a short and sweet opening ceremonies. It’s an opportunity for the city and other orienteering dignitaries to welcome the athletes and declare the competitions officially “open.” We caught a quick photo with our flag inside the courthouse and in front of that swanky chandelier.
On the walk back to the van we captured a little bit of the local graffiti
The opening ceremonies were held after a super rainy Model Event, where we can ride around on a sample map and get a sense of what types of trails we’ll be on for the next week. It was so wet and muddy, and our only option that day for washing our bikes turned out to be a nearby car wash.
Lithuania has rocked our socks off after the first three days of competition. One really amazing part about our races is that they all take place within Vilnius city limits. They keep mentioning they are one of the greenest larger cities, and you could walk for many kilometers always in a green space and surrounded by trees. Starting on Monday, we raced the Middle Distance, Mass Start, and Team Relay — three races very different from each other in style.
Here’s the map from Monday’s race, which had a lot of topography to read and lots of small trail networks.
Sue had a great race, which she described as “surviving,” and Rachel and I both didn’t finish within the day’s time cap, which left us with DNF’s. This was really disappointing for me, as I’ve been studying maps and racing MTBO races for the past 4 weeks. It wasn’t the way I pictured my week starting off.
There was a lot of rain the night before, making the trails wet and a little slick, which slowed down riding for everyone. Reading the topography was challenging for me, and I found myself getting lost a few times where panic would settle in and I couldn’t focus on the map very well. Such is orienteering! Combatting the mental game is always the biggest challenge. But Sue hammered through it and came out with a very respectable 42nd place. This was also really fantastic because she had been worried how riding at race pace would be for her since her crash in France. It was really great that she felt so good!
Here are a few photos from the Middle:
Sue in focus mode.
The Middle distance race had lots of “hike a biking” on trails that really weren’t too rideable in the wet conditions. It was a doozy for me, but seemingly business as usual for so many people. One woman did say she came here to ride her bike, not hike it. 🙂
Moving on to Tuesday, the Mass Start Race. This is the first year the Mass Start has been an official event, and it didn’t disappoint. Like a relay, all competitors start at the same time; unlike a relay where nations compete in teams of three, the Mass Start had 50 starters just in the women’s category. It was a bit of chaos. We all stood in rows next to one another, were handed our maps 15 seconds before taking off, and then all rode out of the arena in a pack. Pretty exciting!
Here are some photos from the start of the race:
This photo is just past the “start triangle,” which is the official beginning of the map. It turns out everyone had the same control 1, but the group had split into two routes, and this was the pack Sue and I ended up with. Rachel took the other route, which we estimate might have been 10 seconds faster?
Sue coming into a control with a group from Sweden and the Czech Republic.
1) Each rider started off the race with 4 maps stapled together, then traded those maps out for a 5th map later in the race.
2) The first two maps were 1:10,000 scale, then the 3rd and 4th were 1:5,000! When you picked up your final and 5th map you switched back to 1:10,000. Better pay attention!
3) To add to the chaos, just the women’s elite race by itself had 41 controls. This meant needing to check your control numbers every time, and really be sure about it.
Sue and I both had a super fun time in this race, and finished up 37th and 39th respectively, although Sue was at least 7 minutes ahead of me in time. Crusher! The Mass Start sounded super daunting when we were reading about it, especially due to the length and amount of climb we were expecting to do, but the frequency of switching maps and the fun terrain kept us busy and enjoying it the entire time. Hooray for Mass Starts! Here are a few of the maps from our stapled packet:
Team relays always seem to point out how little mistakes and hesitations really add up. It was a similar situation here in Lithuania, where our times of 1:10, 1:10 and 1:15 couldn’t shake a stick at the faster teams who had individual times like 46 minutes. We all had fairly good splits, but just larger errors and a crash into the bushes by me between controls 2 and 3 kept us at the back of the pack.
You can see from the map photo that there was quite a bit of intricate trail action happening in the latter half of the race. Add in a creek crossing up to your ankles and some sandy conditions and you’ve got yourself a really challenging relay course. We’ve found all the terrain and course design in Lithuania to be pretty tricky and interesting. They have really done a good job putting the races together this year.
Other fun things:
My parents are in town, too! We did a little old town walk yesterday and went out for some eats. They are on their first stop of a travel excursion through Lithuania, Estonia and Russia.
The Lithuanian team has a campaign going around town where some of their elite riders are saying they will lube your chain, wash your bike, or pump up your tires if they don’t win a medal at the World Champs. It’s pretty cool seeing the ads around the city, even if they might be confusing to the layperson.