By Lennard Zinn
Great Britain’s Nicole Cooke, the reigning world junior road champion, added another laurel to her collection in the junior women’s cross-country in Vail on Sunday morning. As in Plouay last October, she finished alone, but this time, she got a little help from the confusion of her breakaway companion on the course’s final turn.
From the start, Maja Wloszczowska of Poland, last year’s world junior cross-country champion and the reigning European champion, applied pressure on the long, 700-vertical-foot climb of the Vail Village Loop. Wloszczowska crashed on the technical descent but remounted quickly. Amazingly, most of the leading young women were riding the heart-stopping “Jetta Jump” drop-off down a huge rock. Most of them managed to avoid the large tree in the way, even making the super-tough hard right turn inside of the tree to cut off the slower 170-degree turn, but plenty of them went over the bars in the process.
By the end of the lap, the major selection had been made, with Julie Pesenti of France accompanying Cooke and Wloszczowska, while another Frenchwoman, Julie Rajol dangled at 30 seconds. The top American, Magen Long, who had also crashed, was a minute down.
The second and final time up the Village Loop climb, Wloszczowska attacked again. Cooke could not follow, but she gradually clawed her way back up, passing the Polish girl by the top and dropping her by almost 10 seconds. The Polish and French riders caught back up on the descent, and Wloszczowska attacked again on the “Stairway to Heavin’” climb of the Golden Peak loop. “I didn’t have the jump to go with her,” Cooke later said, “but I knew I could peg her back again.” Indeed, she caught back up by the top of the climb, failed in an attempt to pass her over the crest, and contented herself to follow the Pole down the steep drops of the “Paul Mitchell Detangler” descent. The reigning world road champion continued following the defending world cross-country champion along the curving pavement through downtown Vail, when Cooke got her big break.
As both the junior men and junior women were on the course at the same time, each coming into the start-finish area simultaneously from opposite directions, the course was open in three perpendicular directions at the final turn. Wloszczowska got confused and went straight, while Cooke correctly made the left turn and sprinted all-out for the finish, panting from the effort. Her Polish rival recovered from her mistake, but did not have the time to catch the Brit, and had to be content with a sliver medal, six seconds back. Pesenti arrived 20 seconds later, ecstatic with her finish, while the two that had led her in were shedding a few tears for opposite reasons.
Long finished in a fine fifth place, another two minutes back. Her teammate, Lea Davison, finished seventh, followed by Canadians Martina Feldman in eighth and Sophie Anne Blanchette in 10th. The latter had only looked at a course map before riding, as she only arrived late Saturday night, after a long series of flights and drives from the small village of Gaspé in eastern Quebec.
1. Nicole Cooke, Great Britain, 12.62 miles in 1:11:46; 2. Maja Wloszczowska, Poland, at 0:06; 3. Julie Pesenti, France, at 0:26; 4. Julie Rajol, France, at 1:29; 5. Magen Long, United States, at 2:30; 6. Maureen Guichardot, France, at 3:28; 7. Lea Davison, United States, at 5:32; 8. Martina Feldman, Canada, at 6:07; 9. Sarah Koba, Austria, at 7:38; 10. Sophie Anne Blanchette, Canada, at 7:50; 11. Anna Motchalova, Russia, at 9:48; 12. Liza Winne, United States, at 10:34; 13. Jean Ann McKirdy, Canada, at 11:06; 14. Katrina Henry, Canada, at 11:23; 15. Karin Scholtz, South Africa, at 15:51; 16. Maaris Meier, Estonia, at 16:43; 17. Erika Fernanda Gramiselli, Brazil, at 21:38; 18. Helena Coney, Canada, at 25:23; Pavla Havlikova, Czech Republic, DNF;