Saturday, August 25, 2007

WOC 2007 Relay: No change there

Today was relay day and we were back amongst the windmills in the same event arena as for the long race. If you don't want to know the score look away now... All six relay gold medalists from Denmark in 2006 won again today, with an unchanged Russian men's team and Finnish women's team coming home first. To be honest there were no real surprises at all, with the top 10 in both races looking fairly predictable. But the races themselves did provide some decent head-to head competition.

The women set out first, in temperatures which were at last a bit more bearable than earlier in the week. Pippa Whitehouse had a great run for GB on the first leg coming back in sixth place just ahead of Switzerland. The Finns gradually pulled away on the second leg, but Norway and Sweden were together in a battle for the places, with Simone Niggli setting out in fifth place on the shorter last leg with an outside chance of a medal. In the end the Swedes just beat the Norwegians to take silver, and the Swiss ended fourth.

Graham Gristwood set out on the first lap for the men and was in the leading pack out of the field. He was still in the lead at the first radio control before losing a few places and eventually finishing 15th, but under two minutes down. Things continued pretty tight, and Jon Duncan moved up a few places to send Jamie Stevenson out with Thierry Gueorgiou in a fight for sixth place and the last spot on the podium. Thierry won that battle, whilst at the front the Russians were opening up a small but adequate lead ahead of Finland and Sweden.

And then after what had already been a very long day for spectators it was time to head out on the WOC Tour races and get a chance to sample the terrain at first hand. My start time was 17:34, and which point I had already been in the field for nearly eight hours. Despite this I managed a pretty reasonable run. The complicated valley network turned out to be even steeper and muddier than expected, and my route choice along a marsh in the bottom of a valley was a little on the slow side. There was quite a lot of the course through the cottages and other buildings in the museum itself, and then a final two kilometres through very fast white woodland with excellent visibility, very similar to the Chilterns in places. The museum is enclosed within a three metre high metal railing fence, and World Champs runners had been provided with bridges to get over this. For some reason the organisers decided that mere mortals could do without this luxury, so we were left to climb these fences or find unmapped gaps in them. Helen ran past a pile of wood that turned out to be the dismantled bridge that she was looking for at the time, and I had to help a woman over a fence before I could cross it. Our course was pretty much the same distance as the last lap of the men's race, and the good news is that my time means I would be a safe bet to make the Kazakhstan, Israel, Hong Kong and South Africa teams, and even the Chinese team which is a bit of a surprise.

Helen had already predicted that getting home that night would be a challenge, especially when the organisers announced that the last bus would leave at 19:00, despite the fact that many people would not have finished by then. We finally left the event arena about 19:15 and got to the bus pick-up point at around 19:30. Given the events of previous days we decided it was safer to get the public bus that arrived not long after, so seven of us set off on a mystery tour hoping to find a metro station, at the extortionate price of 15p each. This worked OK, and we finally got back to the hotel at just after 20:30, a mere 12 hours after we had set out. You have to be fit to be a spectator at this WOC.

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