There was no disputing who was the best male cross-country rider to hit the single-track during Saturday’s pro cross-country at the Deer Valley resort at Park City, Utah. NORBA National Mountain Bike Series leader Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher) gapped the men’s field on the first of four seven-mile laps and held on to win , the fourth event of the 2006 series by more than three minutes.
“I was honestly surprised I felt as good as I did, because I trained more with Sonoma in mind,” he said, referring to the national championships July 15-16 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California. “I took four days off after Mont-Ste-Anne and moved a ton of flagstone. It was good to mentally forget about bike racing for a bit.”
After the first lap it became apparent the day’s battle would be for second place. The fight pitted defending NMBS series champ Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) against Trek-Volkswagen factory rider Jeremiah Bishop and Trek regional rider Ross Schnell, trailed shortly thereafter by Adam Craig (Giant) and Ryan Trebon (Kona-Les Gets).
Ross, who appeared the strongest of the trio, is a native of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and leads the NMBS Super D standings. The Coloradan appeared the strongest of the three until the final lap, when he suffered a catastrophic meltdown and faded to 10th.
On the final lap, Bishop and Kabush took turns attacking each other for second, while behind them Craig and Trebon fought a duel of their own.
As Horgan-Kobelski toweled off and filled out the post-race drug-testing paperwork, Bishop and Kabush came rumbling down the final descent together. Bishop gapped the Canadian on the final single-track before the concrete straightaway, and appeared to have second place sewed up, but Kabush kicked hard on the pavement. Lacking finish-line camera, race officials called it for Kabush.
“It’s important for me to grab those extra points to keep me some hope of catching JHK in the points chase, but with the way he’s riding right now it’s going to be a big challenge,” Kabush said. “This season has been a roller coaster for me. I was sick early on and feel like I’ve been clawing my way uphill since then. It’s been disappointing.”
Bishop was not pleased about the absence of a finish-line camera, saying he felt robbed of second place.
“I feel like they gave it to him because he had more momentum coming through the finish,” Bishop said.
A tighter battle ensued in the women’s pro cross country, as Subaru-Gary Fisher teammates Heather Irmiger and Willow Koerber swarmed race favorite Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna) on the first of three laps.
Irmiger, who rode away from Vanlandingham last year to win her first NMBS race at Brian Head, Utah, took a five-second lead on the Luna rider after the first lap. Koerber trailed the two by five seconds.
“I felt awesome. I was riding with Shonny and about to hit her rear tire so I went for it,” said Irmiger. “My legs blew on the end of the lap and I had to ride my own pace. I’m stoked to get second, but it was a second-place finish with a whole lot of hurt.”
Vanlandingham assumed the lead on the opening climb of lap two, but the Luna rider was unable to blow the doors off the competition, as she did at last year’s Deer Valley NMBS race. Irmiger and Koerber held Vanlandingham to a tight 10-second leash.
But the leash refused to break or give, and as Vanlandingham descended toward the finish, Irmiger was visibly too far out of range to catch the Luna rider.
“I really tried not to blow it too early in the race,” said Vanlandingham, who admitted that spending a month living and racing at sea level had taken its toll on her lungs. “I couldn’t really breathe here as well as I normally can. I had to ride at my own pace.”
Koerber finished a strong third. Not known for excelling at altitude, the Subaru-Gary Fisher rider accredited her performance to arriving to the race venue at the last possible minute.
“I got in last night and didn’t get a chance to even pre-ride the course,” she said. “That’s how I have to do it at altitude.”
Finishing fourth was Kiwi Jennifer Smith, a Trek-Volkswagen regional-program rider who leads the NMBS marathon standings. Smith, who also races XTerra triathlons, said she had been building up for this race.
“I did horrible at Mount Snow and Mont-Ste-Anne,” Smith said. “I kind of took the last two weeks off the bike entirely. I did some starts and soft intervals this week. This finish has given me some faith again.”
1. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Subaru-Gary Fisher
2. Geoff Kabush (Can), Maxxis
3. Jeremiah Bishop, Trek-Volkswagen
4. Adam Craig, Giant
5. Ryan Trebon, Kona-Les Gets
1. Shonny Vanlandingham, Luna
2. Heather Irmiger, Subaru-Gary Fisher
3. Willow Koerber, Subaru-Gary Fisher
4. Jennifer Smith, Trek-Volkswagen
5. Georgia Gould, Luna