The elite women put on a show that wowed the fans lining the course at the cross country world championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne, Quebec, on Saturday morning. In what was the most exciting race of the weekend thus far, Poland's Maja Wloszczowska rode to her first-ever elite gold medal in a brave, solo ride. Behind her, a chaotic final half-lap decided the remaining medal spots. In the end, Irina Kalentieva (Russia) finished second while Willow Koerber (United States) made a bold final pass of Canada's Catharine Pendrel in the final meters to take bronze for the second consecutive year.
"It feels amazing. I still can't believe it. It was my dream to win the world championships," said Wloszczowska, wearing her new rainbow-striped jersey. Wloszczowska, who'd twice previously won a silver medal at Worlds, had made an important decision; she skipped last week's final World Cup in Windham, New York, to focus on today's race. It paid off as she had had more time to practice the technical sections of the course in advance of the race and was mentally and physically fresher.
Wloszczowska went to the front of a very competitive race with 3.5 to go of 5.5 total laps. For a time, she dangled off the front with about a 15-second gap, but by two to go, she'd extended it to 30 seconds. Barring catastrophe, it looked the like the gold would be hers.
"I knew that the course was very technical, and it's good to have some gaps to be allowed to make some mistakes," said the winner, who'd broken away on a climb. "I tried to save some power for the last lap, which was very hard. I was afraid of getting caught."
Wloszczowska crossed the line solo, ending up with a 48-second gap, while behind her three women fought for the remaining medals. It was too bad there weren't medals left for each of them, given how they all fought so valiantly.
Koerber was always near the front of the race and with 1.5 laps to go, she was on her own in second after passing Pendrel, who'd had a super fast start. At 10 to 20 seconds, Koerber's second place looked good, but was by no means secure, especially with last year's world champion Kalentieva and Pendrel, a newly crowned 2010 World Cup champion, hot on her tail.
With about 10 minutes left to go, Koerber's likely silver medal was suddenly gone.
Riders had awoken to pouring rain early in the day and while it didn't rain for much of the race, the course, which had been dry and dusty all week, was wet but not muddy. It wasn't too slippery, but required lazer-like focus to pick and hold lines as the race wore on.
Nearing the top of the rock garden section, Koerber slipped and fell. "It was the last half lap, and we were all getting tired," said Koerber. "I was really exhausted. I didn't mess up on the hard section of the downhill, It was just before. I slipped and got stuck in the fencing at the top. My pedal got caught on a wooden stake. I was like 'Get me out of here!'"
"I thought, 'I can't go into this downhill all flustered'. You start to get dizzy out there when you're giving it your all. That can be a good thing, but you have to be careful."
The ever consistent Pendrel seized the opportunity and rode past Koerber. Pendrel took the "A" line on the notoriously rocky downhill section, moving herself into second place from third.
"I had had a big gap and I was kind of panicking because I'd lost the entire gap I'd worked so hard for," said Koerber.
On an immediately following grinder of a climb, Kalentieva passed both Pendrel and Koerber as all three riders slipped and dabbed, completely spent as they each pushed with every last ounce of strength.
"I gave everything I had on that last climb," said the Russian. "I'm happy with silver. Of course, I wanted to win. I was second her last year at the World Cup and had come early to prepare on the technical sections."
"Everything" was enough for the silver. That left Pendrel and Koerber to fight for bronze with less than five minutes of racing remaining.
"It was one of the hardest races I've ever done in my life. The pace was fast from the start, and I had an awesome start. Willow and Irina were always yo yo'ing with me," said Pendrel. "It came down to seconds between silver and fourth. That last lap was full of possibilities."
Pendrel seemed to have it, and then something super competitive inside Koerber took over.
"My boyfriend Myles was on the right as I passed him and he said, 'Don't give up on a medal." I was almost in tears thinking 'what just happened?" I'd gone from silver to fourth. He could see the pain in my eyes, and I was fighting as hard as I could."
"I got inspired to make that final pass before the last flyer," said Koerber. "I'm not sure how I did it. I just got fire from somewhere and saw red and attacked. It was close." Koerber's third placed matched her third place of last year at worlds in Canberra.
Pendrel was fourth. "I had one bad corner and it was enough to lose the bronze, but it was still my best worlds and I'll keep moving toward a podium," said Pendrel, who noted the role the crowds had played. "It was unreal out there. It was the loudest world championships I've ever been to."
Two minutes after the winner, Elisabeth Osl (Austria) crossed the line on her own for fifth place.
"The race was very hard, and the key was to be consistent from beginning to end," said Osl. "It was important to not go over the top at the beginning, to take good lines and not risk too much. I had a bad crash in the second lap. At the beginning, I was near Marie Helen Premont (Canada), and everyone was screaming so loud. They weren't calling my name, but it was still motivation. She is an idol to me and I look up to her. It was amazing to be with her in the race."
The American women had a stellar day with Heather Irmiger also finishing in sixth place and Mary McConneloug finishing in 13th.
"I felt really good," said a very pumped Irmiger, flashing a big smile after finishing. "It wasn't slippery. It didn't feel sketchy at all. I skipped the rock section every time. The one time I decided to ride it, someone crashed. I'm so stoked to have been up there doing an awesome ride for the USA. The American women are ruling."
McConneloug agreed that the course was riding well, but she'd had a disconcerting experience early in the race that had shaken her. "I got clocked by the Italian Eva Lechner. She hit me in the face on the end of the second lap. I was trying to pass her in the singletrack, and I came around her and she tried to block me. I got by her and that's when she hit me in the face. I may need to talk to a UCI official about that. It's not fair play." Otherwise, McConneloug said she'd enjoyed the chance to race such a good course.
Local favorite Premont finished in ninth place to extraordinarily loud cheers by her loyal fans.
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Maja Wloszczowska (Poland)||1:48:21|
|2||Irina Kalentieva (Russian Federation)||0:00:48|
|3||Willow Koerber (United States Of America)||0:00:52|
|4||Catharine Pendrel (Canada)||0:00:54|
|5||Elisabeth Osl (Austria)||0:02:00|
|6||Heather Irmiger (United States Of America)||0:02:03|
|7||Anna Szafraniec (Poland)||0:02:16|
|8||Sabine Spitz (Germany)||0:02:32|
|9||Marie-Helene Premont (Canada)||0:02:43|
|10||Eva Lechner (Italy)||0:02:57|
|11||Nathalie Schneitter (Switzerland)||0:03:43|
|12||Marielle Saner-Guinchard (Switzerland)||0:04:32|
|13||Mary Mcconneloug (United States Of America)||0:04:50|
|14||Katrin Leumann (Switzerland)||0:05:31|
|15||Chengyuan Ren (People's Republic of China)||0:06:34|
|16||Katerina Nash (Czech Republic)||0:07:00|
|17||Rosara Joseph (New Zealand)||0:07:17|
|18||Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Norway)||0:07:18|
|19||Annika Langvad (Denmark)||0:08:42|
|20||Cécile Ravanel (France)||0:08:54|
|21||Aleksandra Dawidowicz (Poland)||0:09:53|
|22||Esther Süss (Switzerland)||0:10:22|
|23||Anja Gradl (Germany)||0:10:29|
|24||Rie Katayama (Japan)||0:10:39|
|25||Hanna Klein (Germany)||0:12:04|
|26||Qinglan Shi (People's Republic of China)||0:12:31|
|27||Margarita Fullana Riera (Spain)||0:12:33|
|28||Amanda Sin (Canada)||0:12:44|
|29||Mical Dyck (Canada)||0:13:25|
|30||Nina Homovec (Slovenia)||0:13:28|
|31||Anna Villar Argente (Spain)||0:13:55|
|32||Sabrina Enaux (France)||0:14:08|
|33||Laura Turpijn (Netherlands)||0:14:38|
|34||Janka Stevkova (Slovakia)||0:15:14|
|35||Elisabeth Brandau (Germany)||0:15:24|
|36||Ying Liu (People's Republic of China)||0:16:10|
|37||Nataliya Krompets (Ukraine)||0:16:49|
|38||Laura Lorenza Morfin Macouzet (Mexico)||0:16:57|
|39||Daniela Veronesi (San Marino)||0:17:18|
|40||Jean Ann Mckirdy (Canada)||0:18:10|
|41||Georgia Gould (United States Of America)||0:20:04|
|42||Catherine Vipond (Canada)||0:20:40|
|-1lap||Sandra Walter (Canada)|
|-1lap||Rowena Fry (Australia)|
|-1lap||Oksana Rybakova (Russian Federation)|
|-1lap||Heather Logie (Australia)|
|-1lap||Yolande Speedy (South Africa)|
|-1lap||Fiona Macdermid (New Zealand)|
|-1lap||Kelli Emmett (United States Of America)|
|-2laps||Allison Mann (United States Of America)|
|-2laps||Angela Parra (Colombia)|
|-2laps||Kate Potter (Australia)|
|-2laps||Katherine O'shea (Australia)|
|-2laps||Jennifer Smith (New Zealand)|
|-2laps||Viviana Andrea Maya Tabares (Colombia)|
|-2laps||Nicola Leary (New Zealand)|
|-2laps||Tereza Hurikova (Czech Republic)|
|-3laps||Inbar Ronen (Israel)|
|-3laps||Carla Salgado Gonzalez (Mexico)|
|-4laps||Maaris Meier (Estonia)|
|DNF||Maria Osl (Austria)|
|DNF||Sarah Koba (Switzerland)|
|DNF||Magdalena Sadlecka (Poland)|
|DNF||Katherine Compton (United States Of America)|
|DNF||Blaza Klemencic (Slovenia)|
|DNF||Rocio Gamonal Ferrera (Spain)|
|DNF||Roberta Kelly Stopa (Brazil)|