Can the 2013 US MTBO Team Win?

USA Team colors every year
USA Team colors every year

BURKE, VA — When the smoked cleared from Orienteering USA’s first attempt to send an American team to the World Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships (WMBTOC) in 2012, we wondered what would come next. Would there be a push for more local and regional events? Would Orienteering USA press for a MTBO National Championship – not unlike their efforts to breathe life into Ski Orienteering Championships? Would we see a real effort in 2013 to put American MTBO on the US map?

Unfortunately, the answer too many of those questions is still, sadly, no. In fact the only true MTBO event in the United States – put on by the Quantico Orienteering Club – was rained out in April. Lesson learned from mountain biking rain day alternatives? No, but at least they organized, designed a course, and put it out there for mother nature to decide if the race was a go or no go. So far, very few of the other clubs across the United States can say that; especially when most still call it “bike-o”.

When self-nomination for US MTBO Team member selections went out this year, we saw 2012 repeating itself. The “have your own bike, have your own money, and can pay your own travel” criteria for selecting a national team for an international competition, still seems to be a poor process to build a team from. This is especially troubling when you find out that several of the top MTBO athletes from Europe are ALSO top PRO/CAT1 UCI mountain bike racers; many who use the WMTBOC as a “training event”. How do we expect to compete in an arena where the culture of our own national sanctioning organization still primarily supports foot (and now ski) orienteering over MTBO?

But hold on a minute…

A few things are different about this new team that we need to point out. At-a-glance, the team appears to be made up of an assortment of estranged orienteers from all over the country. But on closer examination, we found something very refreshing about the 2013 US MTBO Team roster:

Returning Veterans
It is great to see Susan “Sue” Grandjean and Abra McNair returning for a second chance at MTBO glory. Hailing from the Columbia River Orienteering Club (CROC) and active riders in the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA), both women are returning Women Elite (WE) World MTBO racers and the first Nationally-ranked US MTBO athletes. Not only was Sue Grandjean the only rider from the US MTBO Team to qualify for the Long Distance MTBO event in 2012, but neither rider has been idle following their performance in Hungary. Now racing in both Women’s A and PRO/CAT 1 Women road, mountain, and cyclocross races, they have appeared to have improved their riding skills for this return engagement with Europe’s MTBO pros.

National-Ranked Adventure Racer
Beyond the fact that it is exciting to finally see some men step up to tackle the world ranking MTBO event, the introduction of Thomas “Tom” Puzak from the Minnesota Orienteering Club (MNOC) was unexpected. Not that Tom “three-flat-tires” Puzak is that notable as just another mountain biker or orienteer, but that he is notable at being BOTH! You see, Tom Puzak is THAT Tom Puzak: The Tom Puzak from Team GearJunkie/WEDALI who became the 2012 Checkpoint Tracker champions and was crowned the 1st Place in the nation! Oh, by the way, in his copious free time, he also manages to be one of the top writers over at Having Tom Puzak on this first Men’s Elite (ME) US MTBO Team is a huge benefit and will hopefully translate into some exciting competition to come.

New Blood
The team’s new comers that include Susan Sherman (CROC), Fletcher Hamel (from Orienteer Kansas (OK)), and David Ashley (from Florida Orienteering (FLO)), are relatively unknowns at this point. Both Hammel and Ashley are noted regional foot orienteers with some success in long distance orienteering challenges. This could translate into better orienteering skills on the bike, but like trying to text while driving, MTBO has a tough learning curve when it comes from transitioning between thumb orienteering and necessary pedal speed. Susan Sherman, however, is a potential wild card of the bunch, as she too has been grinding her way through the ORBA standings in the PRO/CAT1 mountain bike division, with several marathon distance off-road rides under her belt. Could she be this year’s favorite to put Team USA within reach of a Middle or Long Distance MTBO podium place?

Seasoned Leadership
The addition of Joe Brautigam as the Team Manager and potential alternate could be the ace-in-the-hole this year’s team needs to be truly competitive. Unlike MTBO veteran’s Sue Grandjean and Abra McNair, Joe Brautigam (from the Western Connecticut Orienteering Club (WCOC)) has been to his share of international orienteering events. As a frequent member of US Orienteering Teams going as far back as the 1990s, Brautigam is noted for taking 20th place in the Foot Orienteering Relay at Marianske Lazne, Czechoslovakia in 1991. As an active figure within Orienteering USA for over 20-years, Joe Brautigam is no stranger to other orienteering disciplines with even finding time to place 2nd in the Valentine’s Day Couple’s Cup at the US Ski Orienteering National Championships in 2010. It is this kind of veteran that a true national MTBO team needs to maneuver through the International Orienteering Federation’s (IOF) plethora of rules, traditions, and meetings. Unlike 2012, where Team Captain Sue Grandjean had to both manage AND race, Joe Brautigam will be able to remove the stress of race day minutia and keep the entire US MTBO Team focused entirely on competition. This is a role that may prove to be the most essential to how this year’s team performs overall.

So there you have it. An at-a-glance assessment of our 2013 US MTBO Team as they begin the long and arduous task of preparing themselves for MTBO competition Estonia! In just a few months, we should see more America MTBO history made as a Men’s MTBO Team enters the international field for the first time; most of the Women’s MTBO Team returns with new determination and lessons learned; the first Team Manager arrives to keep the team away from the administrivia of international events; and three new mountain bike orienteers join an exclusive club of World MTBO competition.

So, after all that, do we still think this team can win? The possibility is certainly there; which when it comes to American tenacity and athleticism, is a great place to start. We are sure this team will keep us focused on a tiny country in Northern Europe for at least a week in August. But with the new roster, experience, and capabilities — regardless of how this team came together — we find our analysis to be very encouraging!

About MTBO America
MTBO America (MTBOA) is dedicated to creating a sustainable and competitive amateur Mountain Bike Orienteering market to the United States of America. MTBOA is moving into the forefront of American mountain biking orienteering competitions and working towards building a competitive environment that will allow elite athletes to compete regionally, nationally, and internationally. Visit the MTBO America website to learn how you can help!