At the end of the European summer last year we were fortunate to have the World MastersMTBO Champs go ahead. It was touch and go for a bit given the rising Covid numbers at the time, and a bunch of additional restrictions were put in to keep the Masters competitors separate from the Juniors who were also racing. There was anxiety making sure we stayed away from Covid as we had to test prior to travel and also at the event itself before registering. However once we were over those hurdles it was time to concentrate on the event itself.
The racing was in central Portugal, in and around Abrantes. Fields were a bit smaller than usual due to Covid and the lack of racing over the prior 18 months, but the weather was spectacular and the courses incredibly dry and fast. Terrain wise it felt very Australian – 4WD with some single track, dry and a lot of Eucalyptus, not too much elevation change. Suited me well. Temperatures were up in the mid 30s for most of the races. Again – I love racing in the heat, though Liam wasn’t quite as comfortable.
There were 4 races, over 4 days starting with a mass start. This was held within a military compound,with a wooded section, barracks and other buildings and a more open training area.There were 4 different start waves, including one which was for all the women, although age categories were on different maps. There were distinct areas to this race – it started with a road ride out to the wooded area, with a couple of loops of this, then crossed through some of the buildings to an open, sandy area. It was in this section while trying to orient myself relative to marked but indistinct tracks I heard shouting and looked up to find myself riding directly towards a moving tank!
The middle the next day was a more standard forest area with a long loop in the north of the map, then passing the finish line and a spectator control (about 2/3 of the way through) before a shorter loop around the south and back to the finish.
The long was a good challenge in route choices and map reading and I was particularly happy to pickup the fence that needed to be avoided and a road that ended in a cliff above the track you wanted to be on. The relatively easy scale for most of the map made the final run in to the riverside finish particularly challenging with a more complex single track area (just when you thought it would be an easy ride back in to the finish!) I had a good lead in this which I tried hard to lose, continuing on and climbing high above where I needed to be
The sprint was very urban – in Abrantes itself early on a Sunday morning. While there were some road closures, riding on open roads was challenging at points with your head down! I was stoked to have a great week away and come away with 4 wins in W45. The result is more flattering than reality as I was lucky that others made mistakes, particularly in the medium and sprint. Liam had strong competition but managed a 4th in the mass start and a 6th in the middle.
The racing felt similar to champs we’ve done in Aussie in the past and certainly different to the sort of terrain we have here in NZ. Tanks, of course, being somewhat out of our usual experience! Both Liam and I were racing light hardtails, as were the vast majority of competitors. The tracks were generally of high quality and non technical, though I do ride a seat dropper for the occasions that there is a steep downhill to negotiate. I’m racing on a Canyon at the moment and that certainly seems to be the bike of choice in European MTBO at the moment.
Unfortunately, due to covid restrictions socialising was minimal with the final banquet cancelled and riders encouraged to head away from races after completion. We got to know the GB MTB team well in our time in the UK so we did spend some time with them – utilising the pool where a number of them were staying and joining them for dinner.
We’ve been back in NZ for 3 weeks now and I’m already missing the access to MTBO friendly terrain!The access to forests with a range of 4WD and smaller tracks throughout Europe really is amazing.
By Rachel Drew