Georgia Gould (Luna) won her fourth cross country national championship on Saturday afternoon in Sun Valley, Idaho. That made three titles in a row for Gould, who used to live in the area before she moved to Colorado. Fans cheered her around the course as she rode more than half the race solo off the front.
"It's special to win. It never gets old. Every time is special," said Gould, who crossed the line in 1:45:21. "The national championships - to be able to wear the US national champion's jersey all year - always makes me proud."
Lea Davison (Specialized) finished in second place at 1:42 while Heather Irmiger (Subaru-Trek) was third just over a minute later after a gutsy early move, when she set a blistering pace up the first climb on the opening lap of the five-lap race and shelled some who had been hoping to podium.
"As soon as we started the fireroad, I opened it up and stayed on it," said Irmiger. "I was trying to make everyone work for it, including myself. I like being able to give myself a chance by getting out in front. I felt good up the climb and thought, 'Just freaking go and keep going'."
Gould passed Irmiger at the top of the first climb and went into the singletrack descent as the race leader. Irmiger hung with her through part of the second lap before Gould started to pull away on the second major climb.
"Heather initially dropped us all by 30 seconds. I couldn't go with her and knew I needed to ride my own pace. I tried to keep her within a good distance and was able to catch up to her by the top of the climb. I knew I wanted to go into the top of that downhill first because there is no passing," said Gould. "I wanted to be able to pick my own way down there. I passed her right at the top of the climb, but she was only 10 seconds back that whole downhill."
It wasn't until the climb on the second lap that Gould started to pull away for good.
"This kind of course, you can't really race," said Gould. "Everyone rides as fast as they think they can maintain to ride the laps. You have to go all up the climb, and the whole rest of the time, you are just recovering for the climb."
Eventually Davison, who got the hole shot off the start line and into the first rock garden but was as far back as fourth at one point, passed Irmiger and both riders rode steadily on their own for the rest of the race.
"I felt great and wanted to get out there first and stay out of traffic," said Davison. "Then Heather just punched it up that first pitch which was awesome to see. I like seeing Heather going for it. I thought, 'just maintain distance and contact'. Then I felt better and better every climb."
"I don't know - it takes me a while to get into a race usually. I haven't seen a climb this long or this steep in a while. World Cups aren't like this. Windham was this long, but not this steep. This race is unlike any we've done. You have to dig the entire time, but then you get a long recovery on the descent. I have to work on my starts - to get more speed at the beginning."
Davison said she will skip both the Missoula US Pro XCT and the final World Cup as she prepares for the Olympic Games.
Davison rode the rest of the race in second place and said her experience was similar to 2011, when she also finished second to Gould. "It was exactly like last year - always a bridesmaid. You never know though - I gave my best out there and this was how it ended up." One difference was that Davison got stung by a bee near the top of the final descent this year. The bee ended up in her jersey and stung her multiple times until the finish, when Davison quickly ripped off her jersey to get it out.
Irmiger was pleased to put in a consistent ride for third place. "Honestly, I think I stayed solid and had a fast pace the whole time, but I think Georgia and Lea were just faster today overall."
A bit behind the top three, the battle was on for fourth place, with Pua Mata (ShoAir/Specialized) beating Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes) for the final two podium spots.
Mata was pleased to make her first national championship cross country podium. "It was a hard course and these girls are tough," she said. Last weekend, she raced and won a round of the US Pro UET - Mata has been going fast in both short and long distances domestically this season.
"I think maybe if I hadn't raced the US Pro UET last weekend [the Galena Grinder - Ed.], I might have had a little more today. That was a brutal course - the last 50-miler. It's hard to say. But it is what it is and these girls are awesome." Sawicki heads next to Montana for the US Pro XCT and then to Leadville.
"Long and short (races) are both hard in their own way. It's a different pain and you have to get used to it," she said. "It's all coming - it's riding bikes and it's what we love."
Former national champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes) was happy to be on the podium, especially after having to sit out last year's national championships due to having just contracted Lyme's disease.
"I had one speed today. The elevation affects me in this type of racing, but I felt steady and strong," said McConneloug. "It's great to be here and healthy this year. It's great to not have Lyme disease and to be here representing and part of the festival. I almost caught Pua at the line, and it's great to get on the podium. I passed her at one point on the downhill, but she caught me on the climb. Everyone in front of me is definitely fast and strong."
Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers Race Club 11) put in her best ever elite national championships finish with a sixth place. "I had a fantastic first three laps. I was even fourth for a little bit - I'm very happy with that. It's a little bittersweet - I was sixth place, one place off the podium, and I wanted to be top five today, but it was a good ride for me," said Woodruff.
"I was a little over my head the first two laps, but I've never been in with Lea and Mary and Pua on a climb like that before."
The following video is of the top elite women riding the flat rock garden out on course early in the race, when they were all still close together.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team)||1:45:21|
|2||Lea Davison (Specialized Factory Racing)||0:01:42|
|3||Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Trek)||0:02:46|
|4||Pua Mata (Sho-Air)||0:04:13|
|5||Mary McConneloug (Kenda-Seven-NoTubes)||0:04:14|
|6||Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers Race Club 11)||0:08:34|
|7||Kelli Emmett (Giant Mountain Bike Team)||0:08:35|
|8||Erin Huck (Tokyo Joes)||0:09:37|
|9||Meredith Miller (California Giant Berry Farms)||0:10:13|
|12||Rebecca Gross (Tough Girl Cycling)||0:12:03|
|13||Rose Grant (Sportsman & Ski Haus)||0:12:08|
|14||Krista Park (Cannondale/NoTubes)||0:13:04|
|16||Teal Stetson-Lee (Luna Pro Team)||0:13:32|
|17||Amy Dombroski (crankbrothers race club)||0:15:42|
|18||Zephanie Blasi (WXC World Racing)||0:18:50|
|19||Kathleen Harding (Team CF)||0:21:33|
|-1lap||Jana Repulski (Broken Spoke Cycling)|
|-1lap||Jena Greaser (NorEast Cycling)|
|-1lap||Rebecca Blatt (Ronin Racing)|
|-1lap||Sage Wilderman (Durango Devo)|
|DNS||Allison Mann (RNR/B4B)|
|DNF||Sarah Sturm (Durango Devo)|