September 16, 2005 – The 2005 USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships continued on Friday as Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Boulder, Colo.) captured his fourth consecutive pro men’s national cross country title and Mary McConneloug (Chilmark, Mass.) added a second stars and stripes jersey to her closet with a win in the pro women’s race.
Horgan-Kobelski executed his pre-race game plan to perfection and held off Todd Wells (Durango, Colo.) by nearly four minutes, clocking a winning time of one hour, 50 minutes and 39 seconds over the 24-mile course.
“My plan for the race was to put in a huge effort in the middle of the race to see if I could get a big gap and demoralize people,” Horgan-Kobelski explained. “I felt great at the start so I stuck with the plan and it worked out.”
Since USA Cycling scrapped a season-long points system in favor of a winner-take-all one-day format to decide the national champion, Horgan-Kobelski has focused his efforts on the season-ending race.
“As an American, I take a lot of pride in winning this race. This is the one event I had on my calendar this year that I wanted to win and to do that feels really good.”
With four laps of a six-mile circuit on tap for the pro men, it was Walker Ferguson (Boulder, Colo.) who pushed the pace at the beginning, but after the first major ascent Horgan-Kobelski and Adam Craig (Bend, Ore.) had established themselves as the race leaders while Ferguson and Wells settled in just off the back of the lead duo.
By the end of the second lap, Horgan-Kobelski had a commanding minute and a half advantage over Craig while Ferguson began to fade from contention.
“There was a lot of single track climbing up at the top and it was pretty deceptive actually how much more climbing there was once you finish the first fire road,” Horgan-Kobelski noted. “I figured that was where I was going to make my move and just pushed it as hard as I could up that single track.”
As Horgan-Kobelski continued to put time into his rivals, Wells put forth a late-race surge to displace Craig from his silver medal position to overtake the next step on the podium and close out a successful season of his own.
With USA Cycling bringing the national championships back to Mammoth in July of 2006, Horgan-Kobelski likes the idea of returning to the place where he holds a perfect winning percentage at the national championships. “It’s fine with me if they keep bringing nationals back here. I love it here.”
In the women’s race – a three-lap, 18-mile contest – McConneloug took advantage of a late-race mishap on the part of NORBA National Mountain Bike Series champion Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) to add a second national title to her 2003 crown.
Arguably the strongest rider on the day, Vanlandingham suffered a flat tire and crash in the closing miles after leading for most of the race.
As Vanlandingham nursed a slim 20-second lead over McConneloug and Willow Koerber (Ashville, N.C.), Alison Dunlap (Colorado Springs, Colo.) rode herself into contention for a national championship in her final year of competitive racing as she gained time on the trio ahead.
With the crowd expecting Vanlandingham to cruise through the finish line in first, McConneloug surprisingly crossed the line for the win just nine seconds ahead of Dunlap who outsprinted Koerber at the line for second place.
36 second later, a bloodied Vanlandingham appeared, walking her bike, which had a shredded front tire, across the line for fourth place.
With a handful of potential winners still in contention on the final lap, McConneloug explained the latter part of the race. “I was saving it all for the last climb and Alison closed in on Willow and I three quarters of the way up, but I just had a little more cresting the hill. I knew I had to keep it in my big ring through all the flat rolling single track and stay focused.”
With several world cup podiums to her credit this season, McConneloug put an emphatic stamp on a strong season that also included the top American performance at the world championships two weeks ago with a seventh place effort.
Pro cross country riders will have a second shot at a national title on Sunday in the short track event.
Prior to the pros, Friday began with the 24-mile U23 race as 22-year-old Andy Schultz (Missoula, Mont.) rode away from Nick Waite (Davis, W. Va.) and Nick Ranno (Boulder, Colo.) on the fourth and final lap of the same six-mile circuit.
Schultz’s younger brother Sam, a 19-year-old member of the U.S. National Team, took control of the race early, but suffered a flat tire on the third lap and lost over a minute and a half, effectively ending his chances at a national title.
“I went as hard as I could go and knew that if they didn’t respond then it was time to go,” Andy Schultz said of his efforts on the final lap. “But if they responded I was probably done, and nobody responded so I gained time all the way up the climb and knew I had to gain a lot of time because I was slower on the descents than everybody else.”
Although Andy Schultz ended his career as a U23 mountain biker on Friday, Sam Schultz is expected to carry on the family name for a few more years. “This is my last year as a U23, Sam’s 19. That’s the future right there,” explained the elder Schultz pointing towards his brother.
Also on Friday, 17-year-old Michael Cummings (Snellville, Ga.) picked up a national title in the junior men’s cross country race.