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American women looking solid going into 2012 MTB season

Despite being without one of its fastest members, the US elite women's cross country national team still put in a strong performance at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships last weekend in Champery, Switzerland. Willow Koerber, who has won bronze medals at Worlds the past two years, was absent because she is pregant with her first child. While the American women didn't make it to the podium this time, the future looks bright based on the performance of the four women who made the top 20.

Lea Davison had her best world championship race yet with a 10th place.  Her performance came in the weeks following two of her best-yet World Cup performances.

"It was a tough race with a bad start, so it was a game of catch up the entire race," said Davison afterward to Cyclingnews. "I cramped on lap 3 and I thought 'uh oh,' so I took it back a few notches. That leg felt better, and then my other leg started cramping. The course required very muscular riding - it took a toll."

The 4.2km Champery course was extremely technical with roots and rocks throughout.

The next best finisher was Heather Irmiger, one place back in 11th. It was an interesting day for the former US National Champion.

"It was a huge mix of disappointment and satisifaction - more than I've ever felt," said Irmiger. "I was gunning for a medal, and I had the legs, but I got caught behind four different events just after the start."

"I never went down, but kept getting stuck and passed. The final event was up the start climb and someone went down. As I went to pass them, I lost my chain and I was dead last. Nobody was behind me. I climbed up from there to almost top 10. I felt unbelievable. I was so focused and so stoked. That's bike racing, though. I really had it today."

Mary McConneloug, another former national champion, also proved she is back on track after a battle with Lyme disease this summer caused her to miss several of the season's most important events. Having just finished a six-week course of antibiotics, she was feeling much better and met her goal of finishing top 10 or top 15.

"It was comical from the start. There were crashes everywhere," said McConneloug. "I was in the back, and then I slowly moved up, especially on the climbs. I didn't take any risks. I didn't launch the jump - I took the 'B'line. I knew I'd catch them on the climbs. I'm super stoked to finish 15th."

Georgia Gould claimed the final spot in the top 20 for the US women with a 20th place. She had a bad day and said afterward, "I felt pretty miserable. I had one speed. There was nowhere to rest on that course."  She is a podium contender at World Cups.

All three women finished within less than 10 minutes of the winner, new world champion Catharine Pendrel of Canada.

The battle for the up to two Olympic team spots available should prove a tough one with Koerber, Davison, McConneloug, Irmiger and Gould plus Katie Compton is another fast American who could contend.

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.