Surprise in Sonoma - US MTB Nats wrap-up

By Steve Medcroft

The US National Championships wrapped up last Sunday after more than a hundred Stars and Stripes jerseys were awarded in dozens of race categories.

The event was highlighted by extreme temperatures (in the upper nineties most days) and racecourses unusual for the caliber of a national championship.

The downhill course, for example, was a mere two-minutes long and contained only braking bumps, ruts and five slippery corners to challenge both the US championship field as well as a NORBA Series group that included former world champion Greg Minaar (Team G-Cross/Honda).

The cross country track, 7.7 miles of wide-open singletrack, dirt road and - gasp - pavement, offered only 100 meters of tree-lined shade from wind and sun per lap. Some racers openly criticized the course but you can't fault the promoters; Infineon Raceway was never meant to be the site of a national championship, only a stop on the NORBA circuit. But record snowfalls in winter left the Mammoth Mountain, California ski resort (the originally scheduled venue) with a twenty-foot snow base as late as April and USA Cycling scrambling to relocate the event.

So, given all the facts, the weekend was a success despite its shortcomings - Infineon proved that they are well equipped to host elite-level mountian-bike competitions and the crowds that come with them. And despite the grumbling from competitors, the results of these dusty, wide open and distinctly un-mountain-bike-like terrains was aggressive and interesting racing and surprising results in a number of races; mountain-crosser Tara Llanes took the women's downhill, Barry Wicks won his first-ever NORBA-level race by taking the men's short rack, Sue Haywood taking two championships (super D and short track) after failing to reach the upper steps of the podium in any NORBA's so far this season.

For example (and the biggest surprises of the weekend); the favorites to win the US National cross-country Championships, four-time champion Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski (Subaru/Gary Fisher) and Shonny Vanlandingham (Luna Chix) went home empty handed as Ryan Trebon (Kona/Les Gets) and Georgia Gould (Luna Chix) used tempo pacing on the wide-open Sonoma course to take upset victories.

Trebon made what appeared to be a suicidal attempt to get free in the men's race. A strong chase group including JHK, Jeremiah Bishop (Trek/VW), Todd Wells (Hyundai/GT) and Barry Wicks (Trebon's teammate on the Kona/Les Gets team) worked for four hot laps to pull the six-foot five-inch cyclo-crosser back. But after two hours, Trebon was still in front. He crossed the line with an almost relieved look on his face to earn his first elite cross-country jersey.

Strong solo tempo riding proved the key strategy in the women's race as well. The field splintered into a string of individual riders within fifteen minutes of the start. Heather Irmiger (Subaru/Gary Fisher) pulled into a solo lead until Gould bridged entering the final lap. In only in her third professional mountain-bike season, Gould gapped Irmiger for her first major victory. Her best placing before Friday? Fifth in Deer Valley July 8

Check out all the results, photos and race reports here:

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