Poland's Maja Wloszczowska fulfilled a dream when she raced to a gold medal at the elite women's cross country mountain bike world championships last weekend. Her career best result came after she was able to pick and chose her races all season, but she knows that next year, when wearing the rainbow stripes, she'll be expected to be near the front at all the World Cups.
The 26-year-old Wloszczowska skipped the final World Cup in Windham so she could arrive earlier at the Worlds in Mont-Sainte-Anne and better prepare herself for the big day.
"I knew that the course here was technical and that I'd need to know it well, which was especially true given the conditions we faced. So we decided to come straight here and rest and be fresher," she said.
That extra prep time paid off on a wet, slippery day. Wloszczowska got herself a gap as she became the solo leader during the race. "I knew the course was very technical, and it was good to have that gap, so I had room to be allowed to make some mistakes. I prefer dry conditions because if you are strong, you can be sure you will be at the top, but when it is raining, it is more of a case of luck."
Good strategy helped too. "I tried to save some power for the last lap, which was very hard. I was afraid of getting caught."
Getting caught was never an issue for Wloszczowska, who remained off the front for the duration of the race, finishing ahead of Irina Kalentieva (Russia) and Willow Koerber (United States), and winning what was her first world championship title.
Although the Polish racer had previously earned two silver medals, in 2004 and 2005, the past few years, the Worlds haven't gone so well. "I was fourth and fifth and twice I DNF'ed. Last year, I couldn't start and in 2007, I didn't finish due to a crash. I had been missing the gold and now I have it," she said, smiling.
Wloszczowska had a tough earlier season, but the world championship title erased any sour tastes. "I had bad luck at the beginning of the season. Like at Dalby, where I had technical problems and lost a lot of places and motivation. Then I was sick for awhile and thought I wouldn't be able to prepare for the World Cups in July." However, she won the World Cup in late July at Val di Sole, Italy, a result that came weeks after finishing as runner-up at the European Championships in Italy.
"Sometimes when you are sick, it is better because you rest better. The rest was good for me, and I believed that I could win."
Wloszczowska's name came to the attention of many cycling fans at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China, where she won a silver medal.
When asked how winning the World compared to her second at the Olympics, she said, "Both are important. The Olympic medal is more important for other sports, but in cycling, the world championship title is also something big."
Looking ahead to the 2011 season, Wloszczowska said, "Next year will be some pressure. When you are wearing the world champion's jersey, you have to be at the front," she said, "but I think I will be more motivated for the World Cups next year."