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By Fred Dreier
Heather Irmiger and Todd Wells both rode 29-inch wheeled mountain bikes to victory at the Carmichael Training Systems Sand Creek short track in Colorado Springs. The event was the second round of the 2009 Trailwatch.net national short-track series, and was held at Bear Creek Terrace Park on the western edge of the city.
Wells (Specialized), who won the 2009 short-track series opener at California’s Sea Otter Classic, took the victory ahead of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru-Gary Fisher), who was also aboard a big-wheel bike. Irmiger took her first-ever national-level short track win in a sprint against cyclocross star Katie Compton, who was riding a Primus Mootry frame with 29-inch wheels.
“I just knew whoever went into the singltrack first was going to win, I made it a goal to be first or second for the entire race,” said Irmiger, who won aboard a 2009 Gary Fisher Superfly. “It felt really good to win.”
The Bear Creek Terrace Park hosts Colorado Springs’ Wednesday night short-track series, and the circuit appeared custom fit for big-wheel bikes. The rolling terrain featured few rocks, no sizable climbs or sharp turns to stifle speed. Spiny cactus dotted the edge of the trail, limiting passing on the singletrack, and the circuit included only three areas for passing.
Irmiger appeared motivated from the gun and grabbed the hole shot ahead of Luna riders Catherine Pendrel, Georgia Gould and Katerina Nash. Compton, the five-time cyclocross national champion, also rode in the front group alongside fellow Colorado Springs resident Kelli Emmett. Another Colorado Springs native riding near the front was Luna’s Alison Dunlap, the 2001 UCI world cross-country champion, who was making her first return to major mountain bike racing after retiring from the sport in 2005.
Irmiger maintained a pace that shedded Emmett and Dunlap. Gould, who is ailing from a virus, was next to fall off after an acceleration by Compton. Pendrel tried her hand on the front as well, but as the riders sped into the final lap, only Irmiger and Compton remained. The two sprinted for the entry into the last band of singletrack, and Irmiger hit the trail first, giving her the advantage coming into the sprint, which she easily took.
Irmiger is 5-foot-4 and said she believes the benefits of 29-inch wheeled bikes are not just for taller riders.
“People are always talking about the gear ratio and the wheels being too big for smaller riders, and I’ve never bought into that,” Irmiger said. “You think small people need small bikes all the time and that’s really not the case.”
Compton, who stands 5-foot-5 said the rolling terrain at Bear Creek park played into her choice for bigger wheels.
“The bike carries momentum better through the twisting singletrack,” Compton said. “You can recover better on the downhills.”
The men toed the line just as a band of rainclouds moved into the area, and a glance at the starting line revealed a number of missing strongmen. The Sho Air-Specialized team of Max Plaxton, Sid Taberlay, Manny Prado and Sam Jurekovic were all no-shows, as was reigning short track national champion Jeremiah Bishop (Monavie-Cannondale).
A major auto pileup on southbound Interstate 25 delayed Bishop’s drive down from Denver, and the Virginian arrived at the park past the cutoff time for registration. Plaxton, a former Canadian U23 champion, said he missed the event to watch the Stanley Cup Finals, and said his teammates had chosen to rest their legs for Saturday’s cross-country.
The men’s field had mixed opinions on the absences.
“I know the Sho Air guys want to do well on the cross-country series because it’s sponsored by Sho Air,” Wells said. “For me I always race better the day after the short track so I came out.”
Horgan-Kobelski admitted he too considered skipping the short track. “It would give me one more day at home in Boulder,” Horgan-Kobelski said. “Most of us do both, it’s fun.”
Adam Craig, who finished fifth, said the fast-paced event prepares him for the starts on the World Cup.
“There are people on this series who don’t race the World Cup, so they are not concerned about practicing for World Cups,” Craig said. “Whatever, that’s their call.”
As thought it were a World Cup, the men’s field shot out of the starting gate, with Wells and Horgan-Kobelski driving the pace early. Perennial short-track favorites Ryan Trebon (Kona) and Geoff Kabush (Maxxis) had to start in the back rows, and missed the initial split.
Horgan-Kobelski and Wells took turns pulling on the front until the Subaru-Gary Fisher rider washed out in a loose corner and lost Wells’ wheel. Wells rode in easily for the win aboard his Stumpjumper 29er hardtail with Horgan-Kobelski, Kabush, Craig and Carl Decker rounding out the top-five.
Kabush was visibly irked at officials at the finish line, as referees wrote the number of minutes remaining on large placards instead of using the traditional laps-to-go number.
“[The cards] said seven, then it said four and then it said two and then we were on the bell lap,” Kabush said. ““I was gaining on the last couple of laps.”
Kabush shrugged the miscalculation off after learning he had won $250 for winning the Most Aggressive Rider prize. Irmiger took home the women’s title.
Carmichael Training System’s Sand Creek International
Short Track Cross-country
- 1. Todd Wells, Specialized
- 2. Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, Subaru-Gary Fisher
- 3. Geoff Kabush (Can), Rocky Mountain-Maxxis
- 4. Adam Craig, Giant
- 5. Carl Decker, Giant
- 1. Heather Irmiger, Subaru-Gary Fisher
- 2. Katie Compton, Spike-Shooter
- 3. Catherine Pendrel (Can), Luna
- 4. Katerina Nash (CZ), Luna
- 5. Georgia Gould, Luna