The more things change, the more they stay the same. Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Multivan Merida) won the 2011 Cyclingnews Female Mountain Biker of the Year category of the reader poll with 4162 votes or 19.2 percent of the total.
It's been a little while since Dahle Flesjaa won the poll, but in the past, she has dominated it with wins in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2008). 2011 was a comeback kind of a year for the Norwegian cross country star. As many readers will know from following her blog onCyclingnews, after having a baby in 2009, she has steadily worked her way back to being competitive among the world's fastest women.
"What a great surprise. I'm honored. Thanks to all the readers who voted for me," Dahle Flesjaa told Cyclingnews after learning of her win. "In one way, I thought I didn't deserve it based on my results since Catharine (Pendrel) won the world championships. At the same time, I think people have seen that I worked hard in recent years after giving birth."
In 2011, Dahle-Flesjaa won the European cross country championships and near the end of the season, she stepped back onto the World Cup podium with a fourth place at the Czech round and a third place at the Italian round. She was sixth at Worlds.
"Becoming European champion in cross country is more than I could have dreamed of at the start of the season. I'd had a bad winter. I was sick for two months and did nothing. I started at zero and was hoping to get back into feeling good. The week leading up to the European champs, I felt stronger and stronger and using my experience paid off as it was a good day."
"Being back on the podium in the World Cup was like a dream come true."
Dahle Flesjaa is currently spending some time in the Canary Islands training for 2012. "I've done more training now for the off season than I did last year. I'm far ahead compared to last year. I feel great. I'm motivated. It's great to be on the bike again. I'm having lots of my fun on my bike. It's about enjoying every day. I'm back to what I did before 2004 - that was my best season." 2004 was the year she won the Olympics.
The Norwegian rider said life has changed after the birth of her son. "I have to think a little differently because my total day is different now that I have a little boy. Before him, I trained, ate, slept and rested and now I get back from training and if I'm lucky I have time to stretch and eat, and the rest of the day I run after my little boy."
Nonetheless, training in the Canaries is much more appealing than training in Norway at this time of year. "I've been in the Canary Islands for three weeks no. I keep asking why didn't we do this before? But I believe everything has its time and this year, I needed the change. I couldn't risk being sick again."
She will focus her 2012 on peaking for the Olympics, but said, "It's important to have good results before. It has to do with your confidence and strength. I hope to perform well - maybe not the first World Cup but I'll target the second and third. If things stay as they are, Norway will have two places, and it is likely that Lene Byberg and I will make the team, but we both have to put in good results early in the season. My results last year from the Europeans and World Cups are good enough to select me as long as we have the spots we have."
Tracy Moseley (Trek World Racing) took a close second place with 3317 votes (15.3 percent). The downhiller spent most of 2011 wearing the rainbow striped jersey she won at the end of 2010 and while she did not manage to defend her world championship title, she had a consistent season and won the World Cup overall. She may also have won over our cross country readers by participating in the 2011 Absa Cape Epic and the 2011 world championship cross country team relay.
Third place went to Catherine Pendrel (Luna) with 2745 votes or 12.7%. The Canadian achieved a career-long goal of winning the UCI cross country mountain bike World Championships at the end of an excellent season. She was second overall in the World Cup - along the way, she won the Mont-Sainte-Anne, Czech and Val di Sole World Cups.
Honorable mention goes to fourth placed Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour), the young Frenchwoman who spent the first two thirds of the season beating the elite women at cross country World Cups even though she is still technically an Under 23 racer. Bresset also won the under 23 world championships.
Amanda Carey (Kenda/Felt) also gets honorable mention for her fifth place in the poll. The American endurance racer dominated the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series on her way to taking the overall title.
Other nominees were marathon world champion Annika Langvad, runner-up at the cross country worlds Maja Wloszczowska, four cross world champion Anneka Beerten, downhill world champion Emmeline Ragot and downhiller Floriane Pugin.
Notably absent from this year's poll was last year's winner Willow Koerber (Trek World Racing), who had to sit out the season after becoming pregnant early in 2011. She expects to return to racing early in 2012.
2011 Best Female Mountain Biker
1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa 4,162 (19.2%)
2 Tracy Moseley 3,317 (15.3%)
3 Catherine Pendrel 2,745 (12.7%)
4 Julie Bresset 2,581 (11.9%)
5 Amanda Carey 2,230 (10.3%)
6 Annika Langvad 2,002 (9.3%)
7 Maja Wloszczowska 1,603 (7.4%)
8 Anneke Beerten 1,565 (7.2%)
9 Emmeline Ragot 740 (3.4%)
10 Floriane Pugin 689 (3.2%)