Fort William, Scotland

In the elite men’s and women’s cross-country Adam Craig (Bend, OR) and Georgia Gould (Ketchum, ID) recorded the top American finishes. Craig rode to 22nd place in the men’s contest, while Gould finished ninth to lead the women’s squad.

Top ranked international rider and defending World Champion Julien Absalon of France claimed his fourth consecutive men’s title by dominating the 119 rider field in the 29.8 mile race with a final time of 2 hours, 17 minutes and 6 seconds. Rounding out the podium was a pair of Swiss riders as Ralf Naef and Florian Vogel won the silver and bronze medals respectively.

Craig, currently the top American off-road cyclist internationally, ranked 13th in the world and 18th on the World Cup circuit, finished 4:51 behind Absalon. Jeremiah Bishop (Harrisonburg, VA) was the next fastest American in 33rd, 6:47 off the winning pace. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Boulder, CO) placed 39th, 8:18 down, Michael Broderick (Chilmark, MA) finished 12:47 back in 60th, Carl Decker (Bend, OR) was 69th, 16:54 back, and Barry Wicks (Corvallis, OR) was the last U.S. competitor to finish, placing 81st at 21:56.

These results served as a reminder that the European mountain bike pool features a formidable list of contenders. Despite the U.S. being ranked seventh in the world, we have more work to do with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games just around the corner. Amongst the top 20 finishers on Saturday were four Swiss riders, four Spanish, three German and two each from Belgium and France. Craig was the top non-European finisher while Canadian Seamus McGrath was the next-best in 31st place.

Assigned the 12th start position by the International Cycling Federation based on his world ranking, Craig dropped to 31st after the first of six 5 mile laps. The Giant team leader quickly rebounded to the 16th position two laps later after posting the sixth-fastest lap time of the day. Throughout the remainder of the race though, Craig slipped a couple of spots per lap to cross the line in 22nd overall.

Current World Cup leader and number one ranked rider in the world, Irina Kalentieva of Russia captured the world title in the 21.1 mile women’s race by besting the 74-rider field with a finishing time of 1:44:08. Germany’s Sabine Spitz finished 39 seconds back to claim the silver medal and Jingjing Wang of China took home the bronze.

Gould led an American team that placed five riders in the top 25–more than any other country–as Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, MA) finished 12th, 6:54 off the pace of Kalentieva. Willow Koerber (Asheville, NC) placed 15th, 7:39 back and Heather Irmiger (Boulder, CO) crossed the line 8:59 down to place 21st. In her first World Championships at the elite level, Lea Davison (Jericho, VT) was 25th, 9:41 back. The only American to finish out of the top 25 did so just barely as Kelli Emmett (Colorado Springs, CO) rode a solid race to place 26th overall at 9:50, making up 10 spots from her assigned start position of 36th.

Gould, ranked fourth in the world as the top American mountain biker, gave the U.S. its fifth consecutive top ten finish at the World Championships in just her second career appearance. At her debut in New Zealand last year, Gould finished 20th.

Ranked second in the world behind China a year out from the 2008 Games, a deep U.S. women’s team was ultimately kept off the podium at the world championships for the sixth consecutive year. Since Alison Dunlap captured the world title in 2001, the top results have been a pair of sixth place efforts courtesy of Sue Haywood in 2003 and McConneloug in 2006. Still, the U.S. remains one of the strongest nations in women’s off-road cycling with McConneloug (7) and Koerber (12) joining Gould near the top of the international rankings.

With Gould, McConneloug and Koerber starting in the front row, a furious start quickly sorted out the contenders in an event where start position and early race performance heavily affect the outcome.

“The start was pretty crazy,’ Gould explained. “The whole first climb there were multiple crashes and yelling. I kind of got behind some people and let a gap open up but we all caught back on the downhill.”

At the end of the first loop, Gould, Koerber and McConneloug were amongst the lead group, sitting in sixth, 10th and 11th respectively before dropping off the pace of the leaders during the second lap. At the race’s midway mark, Kalentieva, Spitz and Wang had clearly established themselves as the leaders as the trio opened up a one minute gap on the next closest challengers.

“I was trying to go hard the whole time,” Gould said. “I was descending really well, but just not climbing as fast as some of the others. The top three girls just got away on the second climb.”

At the end of the third lap, it looked as though the U.S. would place two riders in the top ten for the first time in six years as Gould and Koerber sat in ninth and 10th, but Koerber was ultimately passed by five riders, including McConneloug, during the last lap.

American cross-country athletes will next travel to the World Cup finals next weekend in Maribor, Slovenia. After that Gould, Korber, Craig, Horgan-Kobelski and Wells will make a trip to China for the official Olympic Test event in Beijing.

1. Julien Absalon (Fra)…Orbea…2:17:06
2. Ralf Naef (Swi)…Multivan Merida…+0:25
3. Florian Vogel (Swi)…0:54
22. Adam Craig…Giant…4:51
33. Jeremiah Bishop…Trek-VW…6:47
39. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski…Subaru-GF…8:18
46. Todd Wells…GT…9:25
60. Michael Broderick…Kenda-Seven…12:47
69. Carl Decker…Giant…16:54
81. Barry Wicks…Kona Les Gets…21:56
1. Irina Kalentieva (Rus)…Topeak-Ergon…1:44:08
2. Sabine Spitz (Ger)…Ghost…+0:39
3. Jingjing Wang (Chn)…China National…1:42
9. Georgia Gould…Luna Chix…5:03
12. Mary McConneloug…Kenda-Seven…6:54
15. Willow Koerber…Subaru-Gary Fisher…7:39
21. Heather Irmiger…Subary-Gary Fisher…8:59
25. Lea Davison…Trek-VW…9:41
26. Kelli Emmett…Giant…9:50

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