By Singletrack.com[album id=80 template=extend]
Poland’s Maja Wloszczowska won the women’s world cross-country championships Saturday, riding away from Willow Koerber (USA), Catharine Pendrel (Canada) and Irena Kalentieva (Russia) on a foggy, cool morning at Mount St. Anne, Quebec.
Wloszczowska, a two-time world’s silver medalist and winner of the Val di Sole World Cup this year, passed early leader and local favorite Pendrel on the second of six laps. She charged steadily but with little drama to the finish, opting to run some of the difficult descents and having few incidents on the tricky course.
Behind, however, Koerber and Pendrel dueled and traded places several times each lap, with Pendrel typically taking the lead on the climbs and Koerber regaining the silver-medal position on the harder descents.
Kalentieva, the two-time defending world champion, meanwhile, stayed out of the fray in fourth, a few seconds behind the pair of North Americans.
From the second to the fifth lap, Koeber, on a hardtail 29er, was the only leader to opt for a more difficult, but shorter, line down the treacherously rocky and slick ‘Beatrice’ descent. On various laps Pendrel opted to run the short line or ride the longer option, giving up a few yards each time.
Starting the final lap, it seemed that Koerber had finally broke the cycle and pulled away from Pendrel. The American poured out everything as she set out after Wloszczowska alone.
Disaster struck for Koerber on the final trip down the Beatrice, however. The North Carolina native slipped out on a rocky right-hander at the entrance to the section. As her front wheel went through the outside fencing, she popped out of her pedals and landed on her feet. Perhaps rattled, she then chose the less-technical, longer B-line for the remainder of the section.
When asked after the race what went through her mind at that moment, Koerber said, “Oh crap. I was like stuck in the fencing. I like to make it exciting and stressful for my fans.”
Koerber said she felt good descending Beatrice as long as it was clear of other riders, but on the last lap she was pushing the pace so hard she had become dizzy; that’s when she slipped.
“When no one was there I was riding down the A-line perfectly comfortably,” said Koerber. “But I was stuck and all over the place. I was just ‘I need to go down the B-line and finish the race without crashing.’”
Pendrel came up on Koerber in the corner and chose to run the more direct line and passed the American. Kalentieva, too, chose the more direct line and Koerber went from second to fourth in a flash.
“At that point a silver medal was possible,” Pendrel said later. “I knew it would be tough. It was going to come down to the feed zone. And that’s what happened. Irina led the descent and then Willow got me just before the last bridge.
“I didn’t want to make it that exciting,” Pendrel said with a laugh.
Wloszsczowska’s gap only grew on the final lap, and she had time to celebrate as she crossed the line in 1:48:21.
The bronze medal is Koerber’s second. She placed third at last year’s world championships in Canberra, Australia. It was the first time an American had stepped on a world championship cross-country podium since 2001.
Koerber’s compatriot and teammate on the Subaru-Trek trade team, Heather Irmiger, rode a steady pace, picking riders off and eventually scoring a solid top-ten finish in sixth-place. It was a four-place improvement over last year’s worlds in Australia.
“I felt really good today so I was able to move up,” Irmiger said post-race. “I rode the safer line just because people crash in front of me sometimes and it was just better to do that. I just kept smiling and pedaling.”
Other women who competed for the U.S. in Saturday’s race were Mary McConneloug in 13th, Georgia Gould in 41st, Kelli Emmett in 49th and Allison Mann in 50th.
Both Wloszsczowska and Kalentieva skipped the final World Cup of the season in Windham, New York a week before worlds. Kalentieva said she arrived in Mont Saint Anne 10 days prior to the world championships, opting to pass on Windham because she was not in the running for the overall World Cup title.
Wloszsczowska didn’t have a stake in the World Cup overall, so she too arrived in Mont Saint Anne early. She also visited the venue in June to perfect her lines.
In late July at the World Cup stop in Val di Sole, Italy, Pendrel was the strongest rider in the women’s cross-country race until the last lap. At that point, Wlosczcowska attacked and then beat Pendrel by a mere five seconds for her only World Cup win of the season.
The Polish rider’s late-season form came after a slow start, she said.
“I had bad luck at Dalby (World Cup #1) and then was sick,” Wlosczcowska said. “But sometimes when you are sick it’s better because you rest better.”