McConneloug sixth at MTB world championships


McConneloug bettered her seventh-place finish in 2005 by one (photo: Rob Jones)
Rotorua, New Zealand, (August 27, 2006)Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass./Kenda-Seven) rode to a career-best sixth-place finish to lead four Americans into the top 20 of the elite women’s cross country race at the 2006 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships Sunday. The U.S.’ four top-20 efforts was the most of any country while Canada was the only other country to place more than two riders in the top-20.

McConneloug, ranked ninth in the world, improved on her seventh-place finish from a year ago to lead the U.S. team for a second consecutive year.

Williow Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C./Subaru-Gary Fisher) was the second-best American on the day in 17th while Dara Marks-Marino (Flagstaff, Ariz./Titus-Kenda) rode to a solid 18th place and U.S. national champion Georgia Gould (Ketchum, Idaho/Luna) placed 20th in her first world championship appearance.

The heavy favorite entering the race, Norway’s Gunn-Rita Dahle-Fleesja obliterated the 49-rider field and led from start to finish to claim her third-straight world title. Irina Kalentieva of Russia was second and Marie-Helene Premont of Canada was third.

“We have a solid group of women racing and it’s just a matter of time until we start getting up there on the podium,” McConneloug commented of a U.S. squad that took a major step forward in securing valuable international ranking points critical to Olympic selection. “It’s just great to come to an international event and push our limit. This international competition is going to bring us up to that next level.”

The United States entered the race ranked fourth in the world behind Germany, Norway and Canada.

Other American finishers included Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo./Subaru-Gary Fisher) who finished 23rd and Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) who placed 33rd. Sue Haywood (Davis, W. Va./Trek Volkswagen) abandoned the race early and did not finish.


Koerber posted a strong finish, placing 17th for Team USA (photo: Rob Jones)
Despite a favorable start position because of her world ranking, McConneloug got off to an admittedly slow start before settling into a rhythm that enabled her to move up the leaderboard as the race progressed. By the end of the first of five 3.6-mile circuits, she had settled into sixth place and set her sights on the rider in front of her, three-time world champion Alison Sydor of Canada.

“I had a mediocre start and everyone was just going so hard,” explained McConneloug. “I knew that it was going to be such a long race and I was going to be picking people off slowly. I just kept my pace and slowly moved forward.”

With the three eventual medalists, Margarita Fullana (ESP) and Sydor all ahead of McConneloug after the first lap, the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team member maintained her tempo, but eventually dropped another spot after 2005 silver medalist Maja Wlosczzowska (POL) rode past her. At the end of two laps, McConneloug had dropped to seventh. The order remained the same after lap three, but by the end of the fourth lap, McConneloug had moved past Sydor and back into sixth place. The move was significant as Sydor, a Canadian icon in the sport of mountain biking, has never finished lower than sixth at a world championship since 1991.

“I knew that I would eventually catch Alison on the climb,” McConneloug recalled. “It was just a matter of being smooth. It was super-slick on the descents and I was running down several of the long, slippery downhills, but by the third lap it was dry and my confidence was just like ‘I’m going to ride this, I must rider this’ because I was actually losing time.”

On the fifth and final lap, McConneloug held onto sixth place by just 14 seconds over a quickly-closing Anna Szafraniec of Poland.


Gould placed 20th in her world championship debut (photo: Rob Jones)
“My energy was just really consistent and I knew there were girls closing in on me,” McConneloug said. “I was just doing everything I could to maintain that cadence.”

McConneloug’s sixth-place effort was the best for an American woman since 2003 when Haywood equaled that mark in Lugano, Switzerland.

Marks-Marino, a consistently strong yet relatively unsung talent on the domestic circuit, rode an extremely solid race, running as high as eighth place after the second lap. She was still fighting for a top-ten finish, holding onto ninth at the end of three laps, but eventually faded to finish a respectable 18th.

Koerber was also on pace for a top-ten finish, running ninth after the first lap and tenth at the end of two. Like Marks-Marino, however, Koerber drifted back a few more places in the closing laps to finish 17th.

Gould, the youngest and most inexperienced member of the team at 26, claimed the fourth top-20 spot for Team USA, moving up seven spots after the completion of the first lap.

Dahle-Fleesja completed the 18-mile race in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 19 seconds, 2:45 over silver medalist Kalentieva and 4:22 over Premont.

2006 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships
Rotorua, New Zealand
Aug. 22-27

Elite Women’s Cross Country Race
1. Gunn-Rita Dahle-Fleesja (NOR) 1:55:19
2. Irina Kalentieva (RUS) +2:45
3. Marie-Helene Premont (CAN) +4:22
6. Mary McConneloug (Fairfax, Calif.) +10:07
17. Willow Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C.) +15:20
18. Dara Marks-Marino (Flagstaff, Ariz.) +15:20
20. Georgia Gould (Ketchum, Idaho) +16:01
23. Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo.) +17:29
33. Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) +23:15
DNF. Sue Haywood (Davis, W. Va.)


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