World MTBO Championships 2013

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Pangea Adventure Racer Dave "Dash" Ashley will be one of the select few representing America at the 2013 World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships (WMTBOC) in Rakvere, Estonia from Aug. 27 - 31.

The annual event gathers the greatest mountain bike orienteers in the world for a week-long showdown of top-tier athletes in this fast growing sport.

For Ashley, a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, this contest is unchartered territory because, despite being very accomplished on foot, he lacks any kind of experience in these types of bike races.

“I'm very confident that I'll finish,” Ashley said jokingly in a pre-race interview. “Otherwise, I'm realistic that as a newbie to this specific sport and going against the best Europe has to offer, that I'll learn lots and be humbled.”

His lack of experience should not come as a surprise because this country has an overall lack of experience. In fact, this is only the second year the United States will be represented at the event and the first year for our men.

Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO) is a relatively new sport the world over. Starting at the club level during late 1980s in primarily European countries, MTBO grew to be the most recent of the four orienteering disciplines administered by the International Orienteering Federation (IOF).

The 2013 showcase is only the eleventh all-time championship for a sport that has grown at a rapid pace overseas. Overall, 261 participants from 26 different countries will compete in the event this year.

Banging the drum stateside is Kyle Bondo, Founder and Executive Director of Mountain Bike Orienteering of America (MTBO America), whose mission is to create a sustainable and competitive amateur MTBO market in America.

“Mountain bike orienteering is a big European sport and fits into their culture of both orienteering and cycling,” he said. “The United States is not as interested in cycling as other countries, does not have many televised events, and is still considered a club sport in many collegiate circles.”

It was a big step in 2012 when an American female team went to Hungary to compete (all of whom have returned in 2013) and having a male representation this year seems to be a big follow-up step in the right direction.

What is MTBO?

Mountain bike orienteering is exactly what is sounds like: a sport where orienteering is performed on mountain bikes. However, it is vastly different from the foot orienteering (and adventure race bike orienteering) that we are accustomed to.

In MTBO competitions, riders do not typically go more than 10-feet off trail to reach their control points. Therefore, map memory, route choices, speed, and control are the most important skills to have.

“My strength is in navigation, and on foot you have more time to review the map while moving between CPs so that usually plays to my advantage if the course is technical,” Ashley said. “Bike maps require you to stay on trails unless an area is colored for bushwhacking. So on bike there are fewer options to get lost off trail, but the quality of the trail (wide/narrow, flat or technical with lots of obstacles for bikes) makes a big difference in route choice. Shorter is often not faster.”

Currently there are no events in America that are classified as true MTBO. In fact, Bondo says that adventure racing is the only type of racing in America that comes close to meeting the IOF criteria for such a race.

“Adventure Racing is the reason there is renewed interest in American MTBO competition in the first place,” Bondo said. “Adventure Racing is sort of the American version of European MTBO in some ways. We always have to add something tougher and meaner to a European sport to make it American-strong!”

The Team(s):

The lack of similar events here in the States make our showings more experimental than competitive. The men, just like the women last year, will get their first true experience in MTBO at the World Championships.


Bondo wrote about some of his expectations for the team on the MTBO America website. His final opinion is that they have plenty of potential but since they are so untested, any real prediction is just pure speculation.

“We love underdogs and as far as this team goes, these athletes are big underdogs,” he said. “Some of the riders, especially on the men's side, show an incredible level of tenacity and athleticism which is a great place to start...but personally I feel they have an uphill battle ahead of them.”

For Ashley, he has tempered expectations as well. “Happy to finish without any serious navigation errors,” he said. “Think about it...going to a world championship and NEVER raced the format before? Just being realistic”.

Realistic sure but it’s hard to rule out these self-funded, self-selected, and self-motivated type of athletes who in essence embody the American spirit.

Format:

The week-long event consists primarily of four races (Sprint, Middle, Relay, and Long) that are scored as time trials. Riders race solo (except in the Relay) and have to qualify for the Long race at a previous MTBO event.

Ashley will be competing in the Sprint, Middle, and Relay. Despite it being a new experience, he doesn’t expect it to take anywhere near the physical exertion of an expedition adventure race.

“The Sprint race should be around 25 minutes, Middle 45 minutes to an hour, and the Relay leg should be around an hour,” he said. “I'm used to going eight hours to multiple days with almost no sleep! So it's going to be very fast and intense, no room for mistakes.”

He has been doing a lot of interval training to prepare but noted that the intense Florida heat has made it difficult over the past few weeks.

The Future:

The athletes representing the USA in Estonia this week are there because they want to be. The fact that they nearly funded this entire trip by themselves is proof enough. So the experience, competition, and camaraderie will no doubt be memorable and worthwhile for them in the end.

However, their participation serves a greater good to the efforts of competitive MTBO stateside and future World Championship teams. Giving the United State a presence, creating any kind of awareness, and witnessing what a first class MTBO event looks like are all invaluable takeaways from this week on the other side of the globe.

“A big part of going to this event is to help grow MTBO in the States,” Ashley said. “I’m looking forward to learning more about this sport so I can come back and assist Florida Orienteering (FLO) with getting this going in Florida.”

FLO has been very supportive of Ashley’s efforts and held a fundraising event on his behalf Aug 10. Many Pangea racers and FLO members braved the summer heat to help the cause.

As Bondo says, support from local clubs is where it has to begin.

“In comparison with other national orienteering teams, we are still at the pilot stage of an experimental program,” he said. “If orienteering clubs begin to learn about MTBO, create their own events, and get Orienteering USA the tools and support to sanction MTBO A-Meets, we may begin to build the environment the United States needs to send world-level athletes to the WMTBOC.”

The future remains to be seen but for now, these motivated few comprising our team are a heck of a start.

Pangea Adventure Racing would like to wish Team USA all the best this week and appreciate their will, spirit, and fearlessness for volunteering for and accepting this task. We look forward to hearing about your experiences when you return.

You can follow the team on both their Blog and Facebook pages.

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Comments

Comment by Kyle Bondo | August 26, 2013

Excellent article! Looking forward to seeing Dave "Dash" Ashley and Team USA do well this week. Hear's to a renewed interest in MTBO this year and next!

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