The Cyclingnews Female Mountain Biker of the Year contest proved much tighter than the men's. When the numbers were tallied, American Heather Irmiger came out as the winner with 2,489, or 18 percent, of the total vote.
Irmiger had a season in which she met one goal after another as she proved her strength racing cross country, short track, marathon and singlespeed disciplines. Two highlights included her win at the US Marathon National Championship on July 4th and then two weekends later another win at the US Cross Country National Championship. To make it even sweeter, Irmiger's husband Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski won the same two titles on the same days, making for a husband-wife sweep of two of the most important mountain bike races in the US. The pair celebrated their national championships racing in their home state of Colorado in front of countless friends and family.
Irmiger, who finished third in the US ProXCT final standings, wrapped up her season with wins at the Singlespeed World Championships in Durango, Colorado, and the Mellow Johnny's Classic in Texas. She ended up ranked 23rd in the World Cup standings.
Both second and third spots in the poll were occupied by World Champions, each with approximately 13 percent of the vote. Cross country queen Irina Kalentieva took second with 1,894 votes while four crosser Caroline Buchanan logged 1,789 votes. Both riders had impressive performances throughout this season.
Kalentieva (above) came from behind at the World Championships in Canberra, Australia, to win on the final lap after an epic battle with Lene Byberg. The Russian stepped back into the role of World Champion - a title she also held in 2007. Despite no World Cup wins, she finished fourth overall in the World Cup Standings thanks to consistent podium performances throughout the series.
Buchanan put in an impressive ride on home turf in Canberra to take her first World Championship title at the age of 19. The win came after a strong season for the young Australian, who is also an accomplished international BMX racer, too.
Anneke Beerten put in a bid for a podium spot in the reader poll contest, finishing fourth with 1,696 votes (12%). The four cross star from Holland was a favorite at every race she started this year, and she won three World Cup four cross races and the overall title.
Sabrina Jonnier made the downhillers proud with 10 percent of the vote (1,449 total). The Frenchwoman has spent many years on the circuit, always racing her heart out. She ended the 2009 season as the winner of the UCI downhill World Cup thanks largely to an impressive five World Cup wins (La Bresse, Vallnord, Fort William, Mont-Sainte-Anne and Bromont).
Fifth spot went to Irmiger's teammate Willow Koerber, who had her best season yet. A win at the Windham round of the US Pro XCT gave Koerber an enormous confidence boost, and she carried her momentum, along with what seemed like greater speed on her new 29er bike, to a podium at the Mont-Sainte-Anne World Cup and a bronze medal at the cross country World Championships in September. It was the first US cross country worlds medal since Alison Dunlap won in Vail, Colorado, in 2001.
Downhiller Tracy Moseley was seventh in the poll with 1,265 votes (9%), and just behind her was Lene Byberg at 1,115 votes (8%). Byberg had an outstanding World Cup season - she won in Bromont, Quebec, Canada and finished second in the overall standings. Moseley opened and closed her international season with World Cup wins and finished as runner-up in the World Cup.
Lisi Osl, in ninth with 697 votes, made perhaps the biggest impression in the 2009 season. The Austrian jumped up into the fray of elite international cross country contenders. She won the Schladming World Cup in her home nation to end a season in which she also boasted two other World Cup wins. She secured the overall World Cup title and her efforts this season prove she will be one to watch in 2010.
Frenchwoman Emmeline Ragot took 313 votes (2%). Not known as well internationally as many of the other poll nominees, we suspect many readers may not be familiar with Ragot. Along with Jonnier, she is one of the top downhill talents for France, which consistently produces some of gravity racing's fastest. Ragot won the downhill World Championship in Australia upsetting favorites like Jonnier and Moseley. Ragot was also third overall in the World Cup series.
A notable absence from the poll is 2008 downhill World Champion Rachel Atherton, who had to sit out a full year of competition after a shoulder injury sustained in a collision with a pick-up during training last January.
Cyclingnews 2009 Reader Poll results - Best female mountain biker
1. Heather Irmiger: 2489 (18%)
2. Irina Kalentieva: 1894 (13%)
3. Caroline Buchanan: 1789 (13%)
4. Anneke Beerten: 1696 (12%)
5. Sabrina Jonnier: 1449 (10%)
6. Willow Koerber: 1363 (10%)
7. Tracy Moseley: 1265 (9%)
8. Lene Byberg: 1115 (8%)
9. Lisi Osl: 697 (5%)
10. Emmeline Ragot: 313 (2%)