North America's top female mountain bikers are having a stellar year on the World Cup cross country circuit. They occupy five of the top 15 spots in the World Cup standings after four of six rounds. The best of them, American Willow Koerber (Subaru/Trek), sits second overall with 640 points, just 15 behind series leader Italian Eva Lechner (Colnago Arreghini Sudtirol).
"All of us are riding so well at the World Cups," said sixth-ranked Georgia Gould (Luna) to Cyclingnews. "Sometimes, the momentum builds. You see someone else do well and you think, 'wow, that's awesome, it's possible. Then they see you doing well."
"It shows you how much of this is confidence. It's now like, 'I belong in front of this race'. I think it's cool to see everyone getting that confidence at the same time."
It all started in Dalby in the United Kingdom, in April when Koerber finished second to World Champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak-Ergon) of Russia, and American Gould was fourth. Koerber logged another second place in Houffalize in May while Canadian Catharine Pendrel (Luna) took the final spot on the podium.
Then in Offenburg, Pendrel stepped it up for a victory. Gould was second, and Canadian Marie-Helene Premont (Team Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) was fourth. In last week's round in Champery, Switzerland, where the World Cup resumed its second half after a summer hiatus, Koerber made the podium yet again, this time with a third place.
It's as if the top North American women have matured in their careers to fill out the roster of top World Cup contenders all in the same season. While other North American women, like American Julie Furtado, for example, have previously dominated the World Cup, seeing so many talented women capable of podiuming on any given World Cup weekend is noteworthy.
Koerber explained just how much of a role the mental game has played for her and the others. "There is so much behind it. I care so much about those races," she said to Cyclingnews. "I mean, I care about the National Championships and every race I go to. It's my job to do the best I can. But there is something you can't manufacture, like the passion I have for the world stage and doing my best and seeing what I can get out of myself."
"World Cups are where my focus is right now, and I think sometimes you have to pick and chose just a little or you fry your whole psyche out." She took 16 days off the bike mid-season to give herself a mental and physical break. Last weekend's race in Champery was the kick-off of the second half of her international season, which will include two more World Cups and the World Championships.
Koerber also cited good courses on the World Cup circuit as aiding her personally. "The courses are at low altitude. I live in Durango now, but I'm still better at the low altitude courses."
Kenda/Seven/NoTubes' Mary McConneloug, a former Olympian who is ranked 13th in the World Cup, has been impressed by the results of her fellow North Americans this season.
"It's incredible to watch. The North American women have been battling at the domestic series with Luna and the Trek girls, and we're also going to the World Cups where the competition is really hot. We've all been doing it for several years now, and we have gotten the experience. We know what it takes to get to the front and that's what you have to do at the World Cup."
"You also need to have the right support, the right nutrition, the right equipment," she said. "I'm so lucky in all that. Mike (Broderick), my husband, is the most amazing mechanic and gives me support on top of racing himself. I count my blessings to be riding like this at age 39."
The elite women will race next the World Cup in Val di Sole, Italy, this weekend.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for full coverage.