The US Mountain Bike National Championships took place this weekend in Granby, Colorado, where riders battled it out for national titles in downhill, four-cross, Super D, cross-country and short track racing.
Elite men's downhill
Aaron Gwin (Yeti Fox Factory) won the right to wear the stars and stripes when he won the elite men's downhill final on Sunday afternoon. Gwin, who also qualified fastest, defeated Duncan Riffle (DRR/Giantnerd) and John Swanguen (Intense/Troy Lee Designs).
"My run was good," said Gwin, who is a regular on the World Cup circuit. "I made one major mistake right before the big jumps and lost all of my speed and freaked myself out. The course was more of a sprint than a World Cup. It was shorter and there was nowhere for a break."
Second-year pro Swanguen said the track deteriorated between qualifying and the final: "There were lots of loose rocks kicked out in the trail, but overall, the track was good."
Cody Warren (Specialized), who had held the hot spot as 11 more riders went – until Swanguen took it from him – was fourth while Geritt Beytagh (Morewood Bikes USA) finished fifth.
Elite women's downhill
A mere seven-one-hundredths of a second separated Melissa Buhl (KHS Bicycles) and Kathy Pruitt (Jamis) in the elite women's downhill race on Sunday.
Buhl's win more than made up for losing the four-cross the previous night to Jill Kintner. "I love four-cross and I wanted to do well in it, but my heart's been more in downhill this year, so winning this is great," said Buhl.
"My final run was more tentative than my qualifying. I think I was nervous. I came out of my pedal up there in that one berm and went off a little lip, but I got it back and had a smooth run otherwise."
Pruitt was disappointed with her near miss – the second one in recent weeks. "Melissa and I have never been that close before at a race, but I lost my last race by six hundredths of a second," she said.
Lisa Myklak (Fox Racing Shox) finished third, also with a smooth run. Jacqueline Harmony (Vixen Racing/Loeka), who occupied the hot seat at one point, finished fourth and Katie Holden (Specialized) was fifth.
In the men's four-cross, a mix of new names and familiar faces topped the podium, with 17-year-old Mitch Ropelato (Café Rio/Canfield Brothers) surprising many by winning the final.
"I got a little tangled up but pulled out of it the best I could and just pinned it," said Ropelato, who lives in Ogden, Utah. "I'm so excited right now."
Rich Houseman (Intense) and Ropelato split one way at the top of the run while Brian Buell (Team Geronimo) and JD Swanguen (Intense/Troy Lee Designs) split the other. Houseman ended up second, Buell took third and JD Swanguen finished fourth in the big final.
"That last run was hectic," said Buelle, who passed Houseman to occupy second for a brief period during the final run. "I kinda went through the middle. First and second bobbled and I moved into second, but then Rich came and got me back when I almost fell off the course."
Mitch Ropelato (Cafe Rio) on course to his 4X win
In the women's race, it was a battle between two of the best women in the world: Jill Kintner (Red Bull/Intense/Crankbrothers) and current four-cross world champion Melissa Buhl (Red Bull/Intense/Crankbrothers). The two hooked elbows at the top, but both showed their skill and experience by keeping it upright and then riding away from their competition.
"Buhly and I are always pretty even," said Kintner. "She is always really fast out of the start. She got kinda of loose and I got kinda loose at the start." Kinter came out of the tangle faster and found herself at the top of the run with a significant gap.
"After that she had a big gap and it was hard to close it," said Buhl. "We were drifting in every corner. It was tough. It was unfortunate as we couldn't accelerate at the start, and it balled up the pack a little, but that's racing. It's four-cross and I expect it. If that kind of thing doesn't happen, you'd wonder if you tried hard enough."
"It's good to get the stars and stripes back," said Kintner after her win, recalling her last championship win in 2006. "The more loose and crazy it got, the more fun it was." Kathy Pruitt (Jamis) and Darian Harvey (Cannondale Factory Racing) finished third and fourth.
Jill Kintner (Red Bull/Intense) put in a strong ride to win the women's four-cross
Elite men's cross-country
Two weeks ago, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and his wife Heather Irminger (Subaru/Gary Fisher) won the elite men's and women's marathon national championships. At the time, Horgan-Kobelski said: "The only thing that could be better than this is if we did it again."
The husband-wife duo did just that on Saturday afternoon. A few hours after Irminger took the women's national cross-country title, Horgan-Kobelski finished first in the men's race on his Gary Fisher 29er.
Horgan-Kobelski's win was no sure thing as he was matched throughout by Todd Wells (Specialized Factory Racing). JHK was climbing better, but Wells was descending better, so the pair crossed the finish line each lap together or very near to each other, at least until the last lap, when Horgan-Kobelski crossed the line solo, with plenty of time to celebrate.
"I told myself, 'I'm not going to go to bed with any regrets tonight no matter what happens', so I threw everything I had into that last lap," said Horgan-Kobelski. "I rode that last lap almost the hardest I've ever gone on a bike. That race was so hard. Todd was riding well. I think we were both close to our limits."
JHK made his move on the final climb, although he says it wasn't planned. "I only had one chainring up front, so I could only go uphill at one speed and that was pretty hard," he said. He gapped Wells by enough that he never knew that his rival had lost a crank going up the final climb.
Adam Craig (Giant) moved into second, with Sam Schultz (Subaru / Gary Fisher) coming in third, followed by Jeremiah Bishop (MonaVie Cannondale) and Jay Henry (Tokyo Joe's).
Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski finished first in the men's cross-country on his Gary Fisher 29er
Elite women's cross-country
Heather Irminger (Subaru/Gary Fisher) collected her second US national championship title in two weeks by winning the elite women's cross-country race on Saturday. It was her first cross-country national championship title.
"It feels great to win two!" she said. "I looked at both championships [marathon and cross-country] separately going into them, but the first win was a confidence booster for today."
Irminger overcame a flat tyre on the first lap to steadily work her way back to the front on the final lap, when she took over the lead from Katie Compton (Katie Compton Racing/Independent Fabrication). Compton ended up third as she was also passed by Irminger's team-mate Willow Koerber (Subaru/Gary Fisher) near the high point of the course.
"I couldn't be happier since my favourite girl won and I got second," said a smiling Koerber. "Sometimes I have trouble with altitude but not this time. I've been having a lot of fun, and I think that made a big difference for me today."
Compton was whisked away to medical control after she finished, with her husband Mark saying she had suffered an asthma attack during the last lap-and-a-half of the race.
Georgia Gould (Luna) finished fourth after a rough start to the day when she had a mechanical on the first lap. Last year's national cross-country champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/NoTubes) struggled with the altitude, but hung on for a strong fifth place finish.
Heather Irminger overcame a flat tyre on the first lap
Men's super D
Aaron Bradford (Onsite Ultrasound) won the Super D national championships after adopting the winnng strategy of getting to the front before the downhill portion, where passing was nearly impossible. The course started with a brief run uphill, and the rest was all downhill.
"It was hectic," said Bradford of the start. "The run, which took about 15 or 20 seconds, was wild. Everyone was shoving everyone. The bikes were so clumped together, people were running all over each other."
Bradford beat Mike West (Maverick) and Ross Schnell (Trek/Oakley/Crank Bros) to the line for his first national title. His best previous result was a second to Carl Decker (Giant) at the Sea Otter Super D earlier this year. Jon Wilson (Northstar/Giant) and Eric Carter (GT Bicycles) rounded out the podium.
Defending champion Adam Craig (Giant) was 11th, ending an era of his domination of the national championship Super D. "I got pushed a half dozen times while running and as I was picking up my bike, someone shoved me," he said. "I don't mind a mostly downhill Super D, but we need to tell these guys to have a start that will sort things out and make it less dangerous. There was nowhere to pass unless you took huge risks."
Aaron Bradford (Onsite Ultrasound) went on to take the win in the men's Super D
Women's super D
Retired pro Elke Brutsaert (Durango Devo) won the women's super D after a friend asked her to come along for the week. "The start was super unbelievably hard," she said. "I've never done a Le Mans start. You're trying to catch your breath the whole way. I managed to go into the singletrack first."
"I love old school racing," she added. "It's not about the bike, but about racing smart and being kind of fit." When asked if she would also race the downhill in the afternoon, she said, "Did you see those jumps up there? I'm not racing that! I like to stay on the ground."
Jacqueline Harmony (Vixen Racing/Loeka/All Mountain Cyclery/Hayes) was second by just one second. Kelli Emmett (Giant Bicycles) finished third at seven seconds, and Krista Park (Incycle/Magura/NoTubes) and Kyia Anderson (Hidden Bay Sports/Cannondale) were fourth and fifth respectively. 2008 Super D women's champion Rachel Lloyd was not present to defend her title.
Elke Brutsaert (Durango Devo) corners in first place in the Super D
Elite men's short track
With about 10 minutes to go in the elite men's short track national championships race, Adam Craig (Giant) launched an explosive attack to catapult himself from third to first. Once off the front, Craig grew his gap to take a convincing win ahead of Todd Wells (Specialized Factory Racing) and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher).
"Some official-looking guy near the start/finish said I had two laps to go, so I thought I'd better hurry up and make my move," said Craig. "Unfortunately, I found out I really had five laps to go. It was so hard, I almost had to stop."
Craig, who was the Super D and cross-country national champion last year, was delighted with his win. "I was starting to think I wouldn't have to worry about bringing national championship kits to races for the next year, the way this weekend was going," he said, referring to losing the Super D title earlier in the day.
The race started with Wells setting a furious pace. Behind him, Horgan-Kobelski and Sam Schultz (Subaru/Gary Fisher) sat on, and Wells pulled them away from the rest. Craig was a few more places back for the first half of the race.
Schultz appeared to be riding so well he had some, and even himself, convinced it might be his big day. "I was feeling good when I was with the leaders. I was thinking, 'Hey maybe I can do this? Maybe I should go around them?', but now I think I was just getting a little cocky," he laughed. "I'm glad I didn't try to make a move because I came a little unglued soon after."
Ryan Trebon (Kona) put in a consistent race to finish fourth. He worked his way up, passing Colin Cares and Schultz along the way. Schultz would finish fifth.
Andy Schultz (Kenda/Tomac/Hayes) rides alongside race winner Adam Craig (Giant)
Elite women's short track
Georgia Gould (Luna) won the elite women's short track race on Sunday afternoon, motivated by a disappointing cross-country race the previous day when a mechanical on the first lap cost her significant time. "I had a little frustration from yesterday and that helped fuel the fire today," she said.
Gould started in the top few places and worked her way to the front by the third lap. She looked strong from the start and claimed her first short track national championship ahead of Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Gary Fisher) and Lea Davison (Maxxis/Rocky Mountain).
"[The course] has got a longer climb than most short tracks," said Gould. "The downhill was bumpy and you had to pay attention. It was good, but hard. It was a more selective course, so maybe it wasn't as fun for spectators because the race was more fitness-based than tactical."
Irminger made a strategic error early in the race. "The first lap was tactically sloppy for me. I missed the move and soon there was a gap," she said. "I think we were both riding similarly, but Georgia rides at a level where you can't close that gap easily."
Irmiger's teammate Willow Koerber won the start just ahead of Pua Sawicki (Ellsworth) and crested the first climb in the lead, but she faded, finishing in fourth place. Mary McConneloug (Kenda/Seven/No Tubes) rode to her second podium spot of the weekend, a fifth place for the day.
For full results and more pictures, see www.cyclingnews.com.