By Kip Mikler, VeloNews editor
It was a good day for Olympians at the Snowmass NORBA National event near Aspen, Colorado, on Saturday. Todd Wells (GT-Hyundai) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (RLX Ralph Lauren), the two American men selected for the Olympic mountain bike race in Athens later this month, finished first and second in the 24.6-mile men’s cross-country race. Jimena Florit (RLX Ralph Lauren), who will represent Argentina at the upcoming Olympic Games, won the 20-mile women’s cross-country race to move into the overall series lead in the women’s standings.
It was the climbing strength of the 29-year-old Wells that earned him his first NORBA cross-country win. The 12.3-mile Snowmass course featured 3200 feet of climbing per lap, and the pro men completed two laps.
“It’s taken a really long time, but it feels good,” Wells said of his first NORBA cross-country win.
Riding a GT hardtail on a typical Colorado mountain course that started at an elevation of 8500 feet and topped out close to 10,000 feet, Wells spent the first lap trying to keep Horgan-Kobelski and Trek-Volkswagen rider Jeremiah Bishop in his sights. As the two early leaders began the first major climb of the last lap, with 12 miles to go in the race, Wells was eight seconds back. But he quickly closed the gap and took to the front on the climb, and Horgan-Kobelski said Wells had the best climbing legs.
“I stayed with him for a while after he passed us,” said Horgan-Kobelski, “but he put in one big surge, and as soon as he knew he could win, I didn’t have a chance anymore.”
Wells kept his composure over the final 10 miles, fighting off the challenge by Horgan-Kobelski. “I saw JHK coming, he made a charge toward the top of the climb and he was going fast on the downhills,” Wells said. “I was just trying to get as big a gap as I could for the downhill and go as hard as I could.”
Wells held his fellow Olympian off, finishing with a winning margin of 1:12, but it was the third-place finisher who chalked up the fastest second half of the race. With his eye on the overall series title, Canadian Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) overcame a disastrous first lap to close to within 22 seconds of Horgan-Kobelski.
Kabush, whose pedal broke at last week’s round 6 at Schweitzer Mountain, Idaho, was 3:13 behind the leaders with 12 miles left in the race. This time it was his drivetrain that gave him problems, but after the first-lap problems were fixed, he scorched the final climb, passing 16 riders to get back in the fight for the podium.
“It seems to be the trend this year,” said Kabush, who broke his chain on the first lap, fixed it, and then had trouble shifting for the rest of the race. “I lost three or four minutes on the side of the trail, so I had to put the gas on the whole last lap and try to make up as much time as I could.”
It was enough for Kabush to move past Travis Brown (Trek-Volkswagen) in points, taking the overall lead heading into the finals in Durango later this month. Brown, who turned 35 on Saturday, finished 22nd, slipping to second overall. Ryan Trebon of Kona-Clarks is third overall heading into the series finals.
In the women’s race, Florit, who gained a late entry into the Olympic mountain-bike race, took the lead early and fought off a gutsy chase by Luna rider Shonny Vanlandingham.
“I paced the first climb trying not to go too hard, to save it for the second one,” Florit said. “But when [Vanlandingham] started closing on me, I started thinking maybe I went too hard on the first lap. But then I got my climbing legs again and little by little I pulled away again.”
Florit finished with a winning gap of 50 seconds over Vanlandingham; the Argentine’s RLX Ralph Lauren teammate Willow Koerber finished third, capping an impressive run of two wins and a third-place finish in her last three races.
Florit holds the overall lead before the series finals, but because she’ll be skipping the last race of the series to race at the Athens Games, second-place Vanlandingham is in the driver’s seat for the overall. While racers will drop their two lowest finishes in the series, the finals cannot be dropped. That makes Vanlandingham the virtual leader, with Alison Dunlap (Luna) and Koerber also in the hunt for the overall in third and fourth respectively.
MOUNTAIN ‘CROSS: A VETERAN AND A RISING STAR
The mountain cross finals, held in front of an enthusiastic crowd on a perfect summer evening, were dominated by a 34-year-old veteran in the men’s category and a 19-year-old up-and-comer in the women’s.
Eric Carter (Mongoose-Hyundai) made his way into the final round on a somewhat slow, snaking course that created crashes in nearly every heat. Sporting long hair and a beard, the slalom racing veteran held off the sport’s other elder statesman Brian Lopes to take the win.
Carter took the lead out of the gates, but thought he might have blown it in the first corner, a sharp right-hander.
“I thought for sure all three of them were going to go by me because I was so shallow in the first corner I came out with no speed. But I think they got a little messed up behind me and that enable me to get to the second corner. Once I got there, it was follow the leader.”
The gravity revelation of the day was 19-year-old Leanna Gerrard (Cannondale). The women’s final featured the top four qualifiers, and it was Gerrard, who qualified fourth fastest, upstaging accomplished pros Jill Kintner (Yeti), Melissa Buhl (KHS Bicycles) and Tara Llanes (Giant-Pearl Izumi).
Sunday’s race schedule includes the pro short track and pro downhill finals.
NORBA CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES NO. 7;
August 6-8. Snowmass, CO;;
Men:; 1. Todd Wells, GT-Hyundai, 24.6mi in 1:57:59; 2. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, RLX Ralph Lauren, at 1:12; 3. Geoff Kabush (Can), Maxxis, at 1:34; 4. Trent Lowe (Aus), Yeti, at 2:01; 5. Adam Craig (Giant-Pearl Izumi), at 3:19.;;
Women:; 1. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX Ralph Lauren, 19.8mi in 1:45:52; 2. Shonny Vanlandingham, Luna, at 0:50; 3. Willow Koerber, RLX Ralph Lauren, at 5:31; 4. Alison Dunlap, Luna, at 3:35; 5. Gretchen Reeves, Rocky Mountain, at 7:21.;;
Men:; 1. Geoff Kabush (Can), Maxxis, 841 points; 2. Travis Brown, Trek-Volkswagen, 748; 3. Ryan Trebon, Kona-Clarks, 721; 4. Chris Sheppard (Can), Haro-adidas, 681; 5. Jay Henry, Specialized, 661; 6. Adam Craig, Giant-Pearl Izumi, 632; 7. Trent Lowe (Aus), Yeti, 630; 8. Carl Swenson, RLX Ralph Lauren, 623; 9. Jeremiah Bishop, Trek-Volkswagen, 620; 10. Jimi Mortensen, Specialized, 587.;;
Women:; 1. Jimena Florit (Arg), RLX Ralph Lauren, 861; 2. Shonny Vanlandingham, Luna, 844; 3. Alison Dunlap, Luna, 828; 4. Willow Koerber, RLX Ralph Lauren, 824; 5. Kelli Emmett, Specialized-Hillenbrand, 760; 6. Dara Marks-Marino, Ford Cycling, 740; 7. Katerina Hanusova (Cz), Luna, 722; 8. Gretchen Reeves, Rocky Mountain, 702; 9. Kerry Barnholt, Subaru-Gary Fisher, 660; 10. Heather Irmiger, Tokyo Joe’s, 656.;