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By Jason Sumner, VeloNews associate editor
It might have been wise for organizers to hand out name tags to go with the medals they passed around at Friday’s awards ceremony following the stage 1 time trial at NORBA National No. 3 in Big Bear Lake, California.
With many of the top cross-country pros absent this weekend to compete in the opening round of the World Cup in Madrid, Spain, it was a pair of relatively unfamiliar names — Heather Irmiger and Jimi Mortenson — standing atop the podium when racing was done at Snow Summit Resort.
Mortenson (Specialized), who lives in Eagle, Colorado, took advantage of opportunity, posting the day’s best mark of 14:46 on the tricky, mostly downhill, 4.5-mile TT course. Ryan Trebon (Kona Clarks-Les Gets) was next fastest at 0:02, with Mike West (Giant-Oso Energy) and Mark Weir (WTB-Santa Cruz) both at 0:08, and Carl Decker (Giant-Pearl Izumi), at 0:10, completing the podium.
“I’ve been thinking I’d have a chance at this race since November,” said Mortenson, 28, who up until now had never won a big national race. “This is the kind of place for our team to do well. It’s the right time; it’s at elevation. It’s a Colorado guy kind of course.”
All told, 33 of the 77 finishers were within a minute of Mortenson’s winning time, leaving much to still be decided in this three-stage race, which continues Saturday with the cross-country.
On the women’s side, it was Irmiger (Tokyo Joe’s) crossing the line in 16:39, four seconds faster than second-placed Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna). Katerina Hanusova (Luna) and Kerry Barnholt (Subaru-Gary Fisher), both at 0:07, and Kelli Emmett (Specialized), at 0:27, rounded out the top five.
This was the first big victory for Irmiger, who seemed a little lost when she was handed the winner’s champagne bottle on the podium. “The other girls had to help me,” she admitted. “I didn’t know I was supposed to put my thumb on the top, so it was just a sad little gurgle when I finally got the cork out.”
The gaps in the women’s race were much bigger than the men, with only 10 of the 51 racers keeping their losses under a minute.
The course actually started at the top of Snow Summit Resort, sending riders on a rollicking ride to the base area. RLX Ralph Lauren rider Jimena Florit was among several riders to sport downhill gear, leading team manager Dave Wiens to call her the “Argentine linebacker.” Florit, the reigning NORBA XC series champion, finished 28th at 1:33.
Racing continues at Snow Summit on Saturday with the men’s and women’s cross-country at 3 p.m., followed by the dual slalom finals at 5:30 p.m.
Australian downhiller John Waddell is back in the States for the first time since last summer, when a brutal crash at the Mont-Ste-Anne World Cup downhill left him in a coma. Waddell spent the off-season undergoing extensive rehabilitation back home in Oz. And while he is not ready to resume racing yet, Waddell will spend this summer traveling with his Santa Cruz Syndicate team, serving as a technical adviser.
The oddity of Friday’s results could be seen in the lack of Canadians in the men’s top 10. In a field usually dominated by our neighbors to the north, only Haro’s Chris Sheppard managed to crack the top 10, finishing 10th at 0:25. There were no Canadian women in the top 10.
This was a huge result for Boulder, Colorado’s Irmiger, who heretofore was probably better known for being the fiancée of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, the reigning U.S. national cross-country champion. Horgan-Kobelski was not around to celebrate his significant other’s big day; he’s on the other side of the Atlantic, competing in the World Cup opener.
Prior to Friday, Irmiger’s biggest win was at last year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango, Colorado. But she’s also flashed the downhill skills in the past and even won the collegiate national DH title in Georgia in 1999. At Big Bear, Irmiger rode a full-suspension Gary Fisher Cake with a 2.1 tire up front. Mortenson was aboard a Specialized Epic with 2.0s.
NORBA NATIONAL SERIES NO. 3; BIG BEAR LAKE, CALIFORNIA; MAY 21-23; TIME TRIAL; MEN: 1. Jimi Mortensen, Specialized, 14:46.66; 2. Ryan Trebon, Kona Clarks-Les Gets, 14:49.11; 3. Mike West, Giant-Oso Energy, 14:54.50; 4. Mark Weir, WTB-Santa Cruz, 14:54.81; 5. Carl Decker, Giant-Pearl Izumi, 14:56.19; 6. Sam Schultz, U23 National, 15:05.80; 7. Travis Brown, Trek-Volkswagen, 15:06.18; 8. John Devine, U23 National, 15:09.28; 9. Jason Moeschler, Cytomax-Specialized, 15:10.60; 10. Chris Sheppard (Can), Haro-adidas, 15:11.01
WOMEN: 1. Heather Irmiger, Tokyo-Joes, 16:39.1; 2. Shonny Vanlandingham, Luna, 16:43.2; 3. Katerina Hanusova (Cz), Luna, 16:45.9; 4. Kerry Barnholt, Subaru-Gary Fisher, 16:46.2; 5. Kelli Emmett, Specialized, 17:06.3; 6. Tonya Laffey, MTBChick.com, 17:07.0; 7. Kathy Sherwin, Cannondale, 15:18.5; 8. Judy Freeman, Cannondale, 17:18.5; 9. Sally Warner, Biogen, 17:22.1; 10. Melissa Thomas, Tokyo Joes, 17:26.1