In the sport of Mountain Bike Orienteering (MTBO), it’s no mystery that European teams dominate.
But it is how they dominate that should be the focus for aspiring American MTBO athletes. For some time, many Individual and Team coaching techniques have utilized the same training methods as cross-country mountain bike racers. Repetitive technical work, intervals, endurance rides, and strength training have all been hallmarks of a good mountain bike training program.
However, mountain bike orienteering is more than just a mountain bike race, and it requires additional fundamentals not found in many other sports. But the difficulty has always been in how both athletes and coaches go about teaching these unique skills-sets in an effective way that ensures results in competition.
One possible approach appears to have been secretly hidden away within the forest and hills of Denmark. Since 2005, Denmark has been ground zero for a variety of intensive, week-long, mini-competitions that challenge both novice and experienced MTBO racers alike. Originally started as an idea to simply go away for a couple of days to do some intensive MTBO training in the countryside, the word soon spread on how these mini-competitions — off the radar of the normal MTBO race circuit — translated into winning results. Within weeks of the 2005 World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships, athletes from all over Europe were asking to participate in the same mini-competitions that had been so beneficial to those who had participated.
By 2006, the mini-competitions were organized into the first official MTBO Camp. Sponsored by the Denmark Orienteering Federation (Dansk Orienterings-Forbund (DOF)) and held in Bornholm, Denmark, the first camp welcomed 65 participants for a week-long battery of night sprints, long lakesides, up-hill shorts, tempo middles, long flatlands, and highland ultralong mountain bike orienteering courses using regular orienteering maps and routes designed just a week before the attendees had arrived. Regardless of how quickly the MTBO Camp was set up, the end results were immediate with many of the camp teams finishing at the top of their age classes and several finding the podium for the first time.
Since 2006, the popularity of Denmark’s MTBO Camp has exploded, doubling its registration each year with the most recent camp welcoming over 250 MTBO riders from 17 countries in April 2009. The MTBO Camp has also become the European mountain bike orienteering preseason kick-off with most of the world’s elite present for training. So successful are the training techniques a the MTBO Camp, that this year’s event featured attendance by 65% of the world rankings Top 10 riders, 70% of the Top 25 riders, and at least 17 World Champions. Just the elite athlete draw alone is enough to lend credence to the effectiveness of the camp’s training program.
The next MTBO Camp is scheduled to be outside Denmark for the first time in Kristianstad, Sweden, in 2010. Given the number of champions that MTBO Camp produces and the number of elite athletes it attracts, this camp is priced very reasonably (250 Euros / US $383.76). Whatever their secret, these training camps have developed an approach that appears to have found a way to teach all the fundamentals of mountain bike orienteering in a way that results in consistent success for all who attend.
So why is the United States not investing in European MTBO training camps?