The elite women's race at this weekend's opening World Cup round in Dalby Forest, North Yorkshire was a battle between cross-country world champion Irina Kalentieva (Topeak Ergon) and American Willow Koerber (Subaru-Gary Fisher), with the Russian eventually winning out.
The pair quickly distanced themselves from the remainder of the field as many of the favourites struggled on the first lap of the tough 6.2km course. "We were able to work together very good," said Kalentieva. "Willow was better on the climbs, and I was better in the technical parts, and we worked together to open a bigger gap.
"On the final lap I was able to get in front for the longer climb, and then opened a small gap, and that was just enough to keep to the finish." Kalentieva won the 36km, five-lap race in 1:54:57, beating Koerber by 11 seconds. The Czech Republic's Katarina Nash (Luna) took third.
For Koerber, it was the top World Cup result of her career. "Irina and I were well matched to work together during the race," she said. "I was better on the climbs, but she would gap me in some of the more technical stuff. On the final climb I made a bit of a mistake, and Irina was able to just get a little gap, but that was enough."
Canadian stars Catharine Pendrel (Luna) and Marie-Helene Premont (Maxxis-Rocky Mountain) both dropped back to the high 30s early in the opening lap, as did Specialized's Lene Byberg. All three steadily worked their way forward, but it was a hard effort through the field on the tight, technical course.
Pendrel moved up to join team mates Nash and Georgia Gould by the halfway point, leading the chase to the front duo, and pulling to within 15 seconds before running out of steam. The three Luna riders, joined by top U23 rider Julie Bresset (BH-Suntour), rode steadily within a minute of the two leaders for the rest of the race, but could not close the gap.
Pendrel faltered in the final lap, enabling Bresset to get by her for the fifth and final podium spot. "I had a good position on the start line, but in the first lap lost a lot of places, and then it was difficult to pass and work your way back up," said Pendrel. "Then, on the last lap, I crashed and lost some time. It was a bit disappointing, but I know my form is good, and I hope to do better in the next round."
The top placed British rider was Annie Last, in 19th (0:05:04). For full results and more pictures, visit www.cyclingnews.com.
Elite women's podium (l-r): Georgia Gould, Willow Koerber, Irina Kalentieva, Katerina Nash and Julie Bresset