By Sue George
Willow Koerber rode to fifth place in the World Cup cross country race last Saturday in Champéry, Switzerland, on a technical, rooty course, that suited her well. It was the American Subaru/Gary Fisher rider's best finish in a European World Cup. She spoke with Cyclingnews on her way home to Asheville, North Carolina.
Based on her World Cup ranking going into the event, Koerber was given a good spot on the starting line that set her up well. "I had a really awesome start. I lined up 11th because it was my overall position going into the race. 11, it's my lucky number. Since I was in a slightly awkward position due to some barricades, I went for the hole shot. I led for a minute and a half," said, the excitement obviously filling her voice at the memory.
"I missed any crashes. It started up a really steep climb, the steepest of the course. I fell a little back but went into singletrack comfortably in seventh or eighth place. For most of the race, the riders in front of me switched around a bunch, like Katerina [Nash (Luna MTB Team)] and Mary [McConneloug (Kenda/Seven)]."
Koerber eventually passed Katarina and then, with two laps to go, McConneloug, too, who appeared to be cramping. She was joined by U23 Austrian racer Elisabeth Osl (Tonis Pro Team Kirchberg); the two would battle it out the rest of the day, with Osl climbing better and Koerber riding the singletrack faster. "Ivonne [Kraft (La Carrera-BTS)] was riding in fifth all day. There were points where we could see her."
The pair worked hard to reel in Kraft, who unexpectedly pulled into the tech support pit near the end of the race. "I think she had a flat," said Koerber.
Koerber and Osl pushed each other for the duration, each going for that sweet final podium spot. "With one lap to go through feed zone, I attacked, but she hung," said Koerber. "Then she attacked me on gravel, and I stayed with her. I led up climb. She passed me, and I rested behind her there, and I told myself 'I haven't done all these hill efforts for nothing.' I attacked as hard as I could and I got a gap. Going into the last downhill section and a few climbs until the finish, I went for it. The race really got exciting for me in those last eight minutes."