Heather Irmiger (Gary Fisher/Subaru) took on the best short track racers in North America today and won convincingly. Always a bridesmaid at these events, Irmiger has been seen on countless podiums but has never taken the top step before. United States national champion Katie Compton (Spike Shooter) was the odds-on favorite to win the race but had to settle for second place. Luna teammates Catherine Pendrel, Katerina Nash, and Georgia Gould finished third, fourth, and fifth respectively.
Racers were treated to a new course at Bear Mountain Regional Park with Pikes Peak towering over the course at over 14, 000 ft. While there were a few showers, it had no effect on the outcome of the race. With the exception of one short steep climb, the course was all narrow singletrack. Passing was nearly impossible with the exception of one short steep section of doubletrack. This proved decisive in the final finishing order, and made sprint finishes nearly impossible to maneuver.
"The last lap, Heather and I were accelerating up the last hill and she beat me to the singletrack. I tried to sprint at the end but she just shut the door," said Compton.
Irmiger, who lives and trains at altitude in Boulder, Colorado, appeared to have little problem with the 6,000 ft altitude of the race. While Colorado Springs resident Kelli Emmett (Giant) won the start, Irmiger quickly went to the front and pushed the pace. In addition to winning the race, she won the "Most Aggressive Rider" award and collected a US$250 check for her efforts.
"I wanted to be near the front and not get caught up in a crash," said Irmiger. "I wanted to be first or second the whole race but every time I was second, I started to get that weird energy."
Irmiger was racing on her 29er carbon fiber Superfly for the first time, after training on it all week. The 29-inch wheel bikes, while slow to be accepted by international racers, have been making a splash this year in North America. Today, the top two finishers in both the men's and women's short track races were on 29ers. These included Todd Wells (Specialized), Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Gary Fisher/Subaru), Heather Irmiger, and Katie Compton.
"I'm racing the Superfly 29er again tomorrow and I'm really excited about it," said Irmiger.
Most of the race involved a lead group of Irmiger, Compton, Nash, Gould, and Pendrel. On the second lap, Catherine Pendrel (the number-one ranked rider in the world) took the lead. Two laps later, Compton went to the front with an uphill attack. Only Pendrel and Irmiger could respond. A small gap opened to Katerina Nash and Georgia Gould uncharacteristically was further back.
By the sixth lap, Irmiger regained the lead and was followed closely by Compton and Nash. Katerina Nash has won more short track racers over the past five years than any other racer in North America. Typically she makes an attack late in the race but today did not appear to have the horsepower to deal with the hard charging leaders.
By lap eight, Gould was dropped from the lead group while the other four contenders were still led by Irmiger. As Irmiger continued to rachet up the pace, only Compton was able to hold her wheel. Both riders sprinted up the doubletrack climb on the last lap but Irmiger made it to the singletrack first. From that point on, it was nearly impossible to pass on the final half lap and Irmiger rolled to victory.
The elite women will compete in the cross country event on Saturday at Cheyenne Mountain Park. With over 1,000 feet of climbing per lap followed by a twisty, technical descent, the racing should be exciting. The same women who led the short track event are also expected to battle at the front of the cross country race.