A rough, hot, dusty course outside of Granby, Colorado on Saturday set the stage for the 2010 U.S. National Mountain Bike Championships, with 47 pro men throwing their names in the hat for the cross-country title.
Showing absolute dominance from the start of the 24-mile contest, Todd Wells (Specialized, Durango, CO) got the hole-shot at the start and lead the first loop on the 4.32-mile cloverleaf lap. Defending XC champ Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Trek, Boulder, CO) was on his heels, and Ryan Trebon (Kona) followed only a handful of seconds back.
Adding a bit of both excitement and confusion to the second half of the first lap, Wells passed the tech support pit and stopped just around the corner in the feed zone, allowing Horgan-Kobelski to take over the lead while Wells hopped off his bike and yelled for his mechanic. A few seconds of back-and-forth between Wells and his support crew had him back on his bike, obviously without fixing what had caused him to pull over, and off he went in pursuit of the new race leader.
“I never go into a race expecting to win, but when I saw Wells sidelined, I felt my chances increase to repeating just a little.” said Horgan-Kobelski, referring to potentially taking the national title in his backyard two years in a row.
Wells wasted little time catching, passing, and putting a dozen seconds on Horgan-Kobelski on the second half of the first lap though. And this time he was able to pull right up to his waiting mechanic in the pits. A bolt that secures the rear shock came loose, Wells said.
“It wasn’t causing any detrimental issues, but it’s a new bike and it was making a horrible sound, so I wasn’t exactly sure what would happen if I left it alone,” he said. “After I missed the pit on the first loop, I thought of stopping and taking some of the tape off my bike to try and fix it, but held off, which I’m glad I did.”
Meanwhile, while Wells took the pit opportunity to chug a bottle of fluid while the Specialized crew scrambled to fix his bike, JHK once again snuck by to take over the lead.
“I wasn’t quite as optimistic taking the lead the second time around, as the way Todd caught and passed me the first time … he’s riding very well right now,” Horgan-Kobelski said.
And sure enough, without any issues Wells caught, passed and continued to increase the gap between he and JHK with each mile.
“I knew that I didn’t want to panic [in catching JHK] at this altitude, so I just found a tempo I could sustain and eventually caught him,” Wells said. “I was definitely suffering out there, but some days you suffer without any return, and some days, like today, you suffer in that good kind of way.”
Missing most of the action both in front and behind him, Trebon rode a strong, steady and uncontested pace for third place from start to finish.
“I really wanted to push a little harder, but there wasn’t a single place to rest on this course, so I felt like if I did so, I’d explode,” Trebon said. “Sometimes kicking it up just 2 percent takes another 20 percent effort, which I didn’t have today.”
Rounding out the top-5 were Rabobank-Giant rider Adam Craig and Peter Stetina who’s usually in a Garmin kit on the road but occasionally dabbles in mountain bike racing under the Tokyo Joe’s banner.
Craig, still on the road to recovery from ACL reconstruction earlier this year, was happy with his podium performance and said each day he feels stronger and stronger. He settled into fourth from the very beginning and found himself unable to make progress from there.
“I figured Trebon would crack but he didn’t, so I slowed down quite a bit on the last lap, content with where I was and knowing I had the time to do so,” Craig said.
Unlike most of the riders ahead of him, Stetina had to fight tooth and nail to break into his podium position, as the road racer didn’t have any national mountain bike series points, relegating him to the nose-bleed section of call-up.
“The steep climbs suited my road-racing background well,” Stetina said, “and though I’d usually lose a few spots on the descents, I’d gain more spots on each climb.”
In the pro women’s race, Luna Pro Team’s Georgia Gould crushed the field, allowing only Willow Koerber to see daylight before making the pass shortly into the first section of singletrack after she decided she “wanted to ride her own race,” which is exactly what she did.
“I was really nervous and really hoping everything would come together today,” Gould said. “Most of racing is about training and preparation, but that other bit —the luck part — that’s what had me wondering this morning.”
With each lap Gould increased her lead, and short of one little bobble on the very last lap that allowed her to bring home some of the course’s fine dust as a souvenir, she rode flawlessly to take the championship.
With Gould off the front, the battle of the day was between two Subaru-Trek teammates: Koerber and last year’s national champion, Heather Irmiger. Koerber started off strong, and said she felt great on the descents, but ultimately didn’t feel great and with an onset of dizziness and chills, backed it off a bit, allowing Irmiger to take over the chase for Gould. Several ups and downs over the remaining laps, including a flat, and dicing it out with both Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven) and Katie Compton (Planet Bike-Stevens), had her earn third place for the day.
Irmiger said she felt good, but ended up with a front flat in the first descent, which not only dropped her back a bit in position, but also sprayed her face with tire sealant.
“It’d been a long time since I’d had a front flat, and I forgot how sketchy they were to ride out, so I took it pretty easy into the pits,” Irmiger said. “That and there’s nothing like getting a face full of tire sealant.”
With a quick change in the pits, she was able to catch Koerber on the first full lap, and held chase to Gould.
“I was making up time for a bit [on Gould] from what people were saying on course, but then that changed, so I settled in,” she said.