North American cross-country mountain bike racing saw some cool action in 2010 that included the mountain bike world championships at Canada’s Mont St Anne and a World Cup stop at Windham Mountain in New York, the first World Cup in the States in five years.
On the world stage, North American women were in the running for a podium step at every World Cup contest. Making for even more intriguing racing was that perennial powerhouse Julien Absalon of France proved to be human in 2010.
So without further ado here are our “best-of-the-best” awards for the last year…
North American MTB rider of the year (female): Willow Koerber
Before Willow Koerber donned the World Cup cross-country leader’s jersey in May, it had been eight years since an American was the top-dog on the international circuit. And while Koerber didn’t ultimately match Alison Dunlap’s overall title from 2002, the 32 year old from Durango, Colorado came damn close. Koerber was second behind 2010 overall winner Catharine Pendrel by a handful of points.
Koerber kicked off the World Cup season with and a pair of second-place finishes at the first two races at Dalby Forest, England and Houffalize, Belgium, where she was a scant 11 and five seconds off the lead respectively.
A third-place effort at the fourth World Cup event in Switzerland showed that the Subaru-Trek rider’s early season wasn’t a flash in the pan but an extension of where she left off in 2009 — with a bronze medal at the mountain bike worlds in Australia. Prior to Koerber’s medal in 2009, the last time an American stood on the podium at Worlds was in 2001, when Dunlap slipped on the rainbow jersey.
But this award is about 2010, and going into this year’s mountain bike world championships Koerber held high expectations for herself — and she delivered with another bronze. Koerber could have won silver had she not experienced a last-lap dab, but she fought for the bronze winning it in a sprint over Pendrel.
North American MTB rider of the year (male): Todd Wells
After racing mountain bikes successfully for more than a dozen years, it’s hard to call Todd Wells’ 2010 campaign a break-out season.
So perhaps the best adjective to use when describing the 34-year-old Durango, Colorado resident’s efforts for 2010 is one word — strong. Wells started out the year with a win at the first Pro Cross Country Tour (Pro XCT) race of the season in Fontana, California. Throw in victories at the Pan American Mountain Bike Championships in Guatemala City and the short-track cross-cross country at Sea Otter against a World Cup-worthy field and most riders would call it good for an entire season. Wells had collected those wins by April.
But the Specialized Factory Racing rider didn’t leave his mojo in the spring. By the end of July Wells pulled off a double by winning the Stars and Stripes jersey for both the XC and short-track at the national mountain bike championships in Colorado and then won the Pro XCT overall.
Wells wasn’t finished there, either. In his first crack at endurance racing he finished third behind Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Levi Leipheimer at the Leadville Trail 100. Meanwhile, Wells wrapped up 2010 as the highest-placed North American on the World Cup circuit at nineteenth overall.
International MTB rider of the year (female): Catharine Pendrel
The 2010 World Cup cross-country season started out quietly for Catharine Pendrel. While the 30-year-old out of Kamloops, British Columbia is among an elite group of North American women in the mix on any given day at World Cup events, it took Pendrel three races to put her stamp on the season.
The first podium of 2010 for the Luna Pro Team rider was a first-place finish in Offenburg, Germany. She then raced her way onto the second step at Val di Sole, Italy.
Those finishes put her in a neck-and-neck race for the World Cup overall going into the final event of the season at Windham, New York. Heading into the final race Pendrel was leading Italian Eva Lechner by 54 points and American Willow Koerber by 59. Had Lechner or Koerber won and Pendrel not finished second, she would have lost the World Cup leader’s jersey.
Pendrel didn’t finish second — she won convincingly. The win was her second gold medal of the 2010 season, but more importantly she earned the World Cup overall title.
International MTB rider of the year (male): Nino Schurter
It could be argued that Nino Schurter’s path to becoming our 2010 International Mountain Biker of the Year started at the 2009 mountain bike world championships.
It was in Canberra, Australia that the 24-year-old Swiss racer announced loud-and-clear his presence by winning the cross-country rainbow jersey over perennial strongman Julien Absalon in a finish-line sprint. And then to prove his world championship victory wasn’t a fluke, Schurter out-sprinted Absalon again for victory at the first World Cup race of 2010 at Dalby Forest in England.
That set the tone for the rest of a consistently strong, Absalonian-like season. With podium finishes at five of the six World Cup stops — including two golds, two silvers and a bronze — Schurter won the series overall, besting second-place Absalon by 96 points.