Thursday, March 10, 2016

MTBO in Czech Republic: Cyklisté vítány!



Rich in history and natural beauty, the Czech Republic is the perfect place for some days of active rest or hard competition. Following Martina Tichovská, the MTB Orienteering world leader, we’re about to discover this paradise for bike lovers. Come and see for yourself!


Cycling is increasingly the preferred way of transport for those who regard active tourism as an option for their leisure time. Promoting health, enjoying the landscape at close quarters and getting to see what otherwise would virtually be unnoticed – such are the great advantages of this authentic way of life. But there’s more. Countries where the bike culture is a reality are the countries with people equipped to accept the different types of challenges offered on two wheels, testing their skills to the limits. So time for a conversation with Martina Tichovská, the current World Champion in Sprint and Long Distance, leader of the IOF MTB Orienteering World Rankings and an outstanding hostess in this MTB Orienteering paradise.

The flight is quite good – some turbulence over the Alps but nothing serious – and here we are on schedule at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague. It’s here that Martina lives. We find her later in the evening in a small terrace house on the left bank of the Moldau River, sitting with a glass of Czech beer and contemplating the stunning views over the old city and the Karlův bridge, Prague’s oldest bridge completed 613 years ago. “My home town is Prague and, despite being the capital of the Czech Republic, I consider it a paradise for any kind of sport, including biking of course”, she explains, adding that “riding a bike is the thing to do in central Europe, and especially so in the Czech Republic”.


A trip in paradise

The sun begins to disappear behind Malá Strana and we appreciate the beautiful white boats, full of tourists, gliding constantly in front of us. Martina takes us away from Prague and talks about the rest of her country: “There are plenty of interesting areas for MTB Orienteering in the Czech Republic. We have almost every kind of terrain - hilly forests full of huge sandstone boulders, flat and fast ridable forests with good track networks, wild mountain forests with lots of marshes and so on. In addition, nowhere is very far away and you can drive across our country in less than 4 hours.” But we also know that Foot Orienteering too is quite well-known in the Czech Republic. Is it an advantage for MTB Orienteering? Martina is very positive about it: “Yes, of course. The Czech FootO tradition is really strong, and almost every forest has its own orienteering map which you can easily turn into a MTB Orienteering map anytime you want.” Her last words that evening remain dancing in my head all night long: “The most suitable area for MTBO training and competing are the Czech and Moravian Highlands, which offers lots of MTBO high quality maps in very nice and hard biking terrain.”

After dinner I try to check up on Martina’s last words and find that the Czech Republic Government takes into account the benefits of biking, and now offers perfect conditions with a network of more than 2,000 km of bike paths, crossing here and there the international EuroVelo routes nos. 4, 7, 9 and 13. But the more interesting thing I find is what the Czechs called the Prague-Vienna Greenways Trail. The UNESCO World Heritage Lednice- Valtice area, the biosphere reserves of Pálava, the White Carpathians (Bílé Karpaty) and, of, course, the nearly 300 wine growing villages and towns with ten different Wine Routes are within the Moravian region. Martina knows perfectly what she is talking about.


An enviable number of events

The next day we travel to Plzeň, 100 kilometres southwest from Prague. The 2015 European Capital of Culture along with Mons (Belgium), Plzeň is a beautiful city with 170,000 inhabitants, well developed, with many places of tourist interest and of course the worldwide well-known Pilsner beer. During the trip, Martina explains the MTBO competition format in the Czech Republic: “The Czech Cup is the main series of MTBO competitions in the Czech Republic, including the Czech Sprint, Middle Distance and Long Distance Championships. It consists of about eighteen competitions taking place from May to October. In addition there are two big towns - Prague and Brno - where we can have some other local training races during the year.”

But Martina also talks about quality. According to her, “the organisational quality of Czech MTBO competitions is very high, and I’m not afraid to say that it’s amongst the best in the world. The most famous and biggest competition is the MTBO 5 Days Plzeň, both for its professional organising team and its friendly atmosphere”, she says. So you may now understand why are we moving towards Plzeň. This is the last of five days of competition and the atmosphere in the arena is more vibrant than ever. The British rider Emily Benham is about to win the women’s class overall, but the attention goes to Vojtěch Stránský, the “home guy”, who is going to win this year’s edition, bringing him victory for the sixth time in a row in the six editions of the event.


A new world record”

We meet Ondřej Hašek, the 5 Days Event Director, a really nice guy, very happy at that moment. We hear what he has to say: “This edition was really amazing! We have exceeded 700 competitors, 705 to be precise, from 25 nations including Australia and New Zealand. In one of the stages (the 3rd one) 669 competitors took part, which we think is a new world record. We are happy to have had almost 100 Men Elite competing, but we are even happier to see the number of young racers increasing in categories from 14 to 20 years old – this year there were 122.” And he continues talking about this fantastic event, despite the accumulated fatigue from the last week: “The most challenging thing is having a full-time job and organising everything during the evenings and a few weekends before... But in the end, we always enjoy all the days, because it’s not only the races but also the social side of the event. Unique is the evening O-triathlon relay, this year supplemented by shooting for the first time, in an unforgettable atmosphere. We use the event to make videos, to invite guests from the sport of cycling and, of course, to have never ending parties...” says Ondřej. And also: “Our simple goal is to keep the tradition of well-being with good orienteering events and nice people who will come back every second year.” Oh dear, I almost forgot his last words: “See you at the MTBO 5 Days in 2017!”

Back to Prague, some last thoughts – the charming city, the friendly atmosphere and the tasty Pilsner still boiling in my head. “The people are the best feature we have in the MTBO community, I think”, says Martina. To her, “The Czech MTBO world is like one big family and, despite the competitive spirit, people are always kind and friendly. It is the goal of each organising group to make some cultural programme for the free evenings. Those who don’t take part in it cannot understand the true MTBO spirit!” The last words are about Martina herself: “I hope my life will be connected further with MTBO. I can’t imagine living in a different way. The combination of bikes, forests and maps are my precious never-ending challenge.” Last, but not least, she teaches me two more words in Czech: “Cyklisté vítány”, which means “Cyclists are welcome”.


[Text and photo: Joaquim Margarido. See the original article on Orienteering World's last issue at http://orienteering.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/iof_orienteering_world_w3.pdf, on pages 37, 38 and 39. Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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