August 6, 2005)-Heather Irmiger (Boulder, Colo.) completed the inevitable path to her first career cross country win on the NORBA National circuit with a victory in today’s 26-mile pro women’s race while Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Boulder, Colo.) captured a win in the men’s race to overtake Geoff Kabush (CAN) in the overall Shimano NORBA National Mountain Bike Series standings after six events.
With a base altitude of 9,600 feet and a course that took riders above 11,000 feet, the Southwest Utah locale provided an added element of difficulty for the 55 men and 37 women, favoring those who come from higher elevations. The two Boulder-based riders each soloed to convincing victories – Irmiger ahead of Shonny Vanlandingham (Durango, Colo.) and Horgan-Kobelski in front of Jeremiah Bishop (Harrisionburg, Va.).
After the initial gun, riders faced an immediate four-mile climb that stretched out the men’s field as Horgan-Kobelski, Adam Craig (Bend, Ore.), Walker Ferguson (Boulder, Colo.) and Roland Green (CAN) formed a small lead group of four riders near the top of the ascent. “Adam attacked right away, and then Walker bridged up to him,” explained Horgan-Kobelski. “A lot of us were content to sit in for a while and then Roland attacked and I went with him and the two of us bridged up to Adam and Walker. Then I attacked those guys right before we went into the downhill.”
As the group crested the rise, Horgan-Kobelski’s attack proved to be the decisive move as the reigning U.S. National Champion’s lead was never threatened in the ensuing 22 miles. At the finish line, he put 2 minutes, 43 seconds on second-place finisher Bishop as Todd Wells (Durango, Colo.) and Adam Craig (Bend, Ore.) contributed to a near all-American sweep of the podium in third and fourth respectively.
Seamus McGrath (CAN) was fifth.
As the series leader heading into the event, Geoff Kabush (CAN) placed ninth after suffering a flat tire and paved the way for Horgan-Kobelski to leapfrog the Canadian in the overall standings. With two events remaining, Horgan-Kobelski holds a slim 22-point advantage over Kabush.
In the women’s race, Irmiger slipped to the front of the field early during the opening ascent. “I kind of just played it pretty conservative at first and I knew it was a long time until it got higher and harder, “she said. “I started to notice that people taking pulls weren’t going quite as hard. It gave me the confidence to go to the front. It’s kind of an amateur tactic. I don’t really know what else to do, so I just keep trying to go to the front and it’s kind of been working.”
At the top of the initial climb, Irmiger held a small advantage on Vanlandingham, but the two soon came back together on the following descent. “I was playing the downhill pretty conservative because of my flat in Aspen,” explained Irmiger of her misfortune in the last NORBA National. “I was pretty paranoid.”
The duo stayed together until the last stretch of selective terrain provided Irmiger with the right opportunity. “Shonny and I were together on the final climb, and then I punched it into the last piece, the hardest part of the course.”
The move gave Irmiger a 43-second advantage at the finish line over Vanlandingham while Dara Marks-Marino (Flagstaff, Ariz.), Alison Dunlap (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Willow Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C.) rounded out the top five respectively.
Irmiger’s win comes during a breakthrough season for the 26-year-old that’s seen her on the NORBA cross country podium twice previously this summer. Her steady rise has her seventh in the overall standings with a couple of lower-altitude, east coast venues left on the ’05 circuit. “I’d really like to show myself that I could conquer West Virginia and Vermont and not just be a high-altitude racer, so those are definitely both on my list to be on the podium at.”
Sue Haywood (Davis, W. Va.) maintained her overall lead in the series despite finishing off the podium for the first time in 2005. Her sixth-place effort on Saturday keeps her ahead of Koerber (Horseshoe, N.C.) by just 38 points.
On the gravity side of the spectrum, Melissa Buhl (Chandler, Ariz.) captured her first-ever NORBA National dual slalom win over Katrina Miller (AUS) while an all-Australian final in the pro men’s category went to Jared Graves as he bested countryman Jared Rando.
In other pro-level events held on Saturday, Mike West (Boulder, Colo.) posted his fourth consecutive win in the men’s super D event while Jennifer Whalen (Idaho Springs, Colo.) earned the top spot in the women’s race.
Round six of the NORBA National Mountain Bike Series continues on Sunday with six more pro events as men’s and women’s marathon, downhill and short track cross country are on tap.