Irmiger overcomes flat to win US cross country national championship

Heather Irmiger (Subaru / Gary Fisher) collected her second US national championship title in two weeks by winning the elite women's cross country race on Saturday afternoon in Granby, Colorado. It was her first cross country national championship title. After she crossed the line, Irmiger was immediately embraced and congratulated by her husband and teammate Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. It was a familiar scene for Irmiger who won the marathon championships, along with JHK, earlier this month at the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge, Colorado.

"It feels great to win two!" she said. "I looked at the both championships separately going into them, but the first win was a confidence booster for today."

Irmiger overcame a flat tire 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 Willow Koerber (Subaru / Gary Fisher) near the high point of the course.

"On the second lap (of four), I heard the gap to the leader was 1:15. She had lost about 45 seconds. I did the math and told myself, 'Don't give up!'. I actually flatted again on the second lap, but it sealed up right away. Nonetheless, I was freaking out about flatting the rest of the race."

"I've had a flawless three weeks of training, and I raced the Firecracker 50 - four hours of racing - on the same set up with no problems, no flats, so when I got the flat, it was almost unbelieveable."

Irmiger had a plan to make up the time she'd lost. "On the last two laps, I stood up and put it in the big ring a lot - every time out of a hairpin and every time on a straightaway. At the end of the third lap, I heard that the gap was down to 30 seconds."

It was a good day for Subaru / Gary Fisher as Koerber followed Irmiger for the silver medal and logged her best-ever finish at nationals. The two teammates hugged as they celebrated after the race.

"I couldn't be happier since my favorite girl won, and I got second," said a smiling Koerber, who'd spent the past few weeks preparing in Durango. "Sometimes I have trouble with atltiude but not this time. I've been having a lot of fun, and I think that made a big difference for me today."

Katie Compton (Katie Compton Racing / Independent Fabrication) led for much of the race, and she looked strong until the second last lap. With one to go, she was clearly suffering as it appeared to take all her determination to muscle up the steep climb just past the feed zone. At the finish line, after finishing third, she was whisked away to medical control for further evaluation.

"Katie was suffering from an asthma attack for the last lap and a half of the race," said husband Mark after the finish. "She's still waiting on a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) from the UCI so she was racing without her Albuterol inhaler." Compton was also suffering from leg cramps, a problem that has troubled her at some past cyclo-cross races.

Georgia Gould (Luna) finished fourth after a rough start to the day when she had a mechanical on the first lap. She spent considerable time in the tech pit at the start of lap two. "Something was wrong with my chain, and I couldn't shift the whole way up the climb on the first lap. They guys were calm and replaced my chain super fast, so I could get back to racing and make up as many places as possible. I'm disappointed that I couldn't be up there and see how I'd do. I felt good."

Last year's national cross country champion Mary McConneloug (Kenda / Seven / NoTubes) struggled with the altitude, but hung on tough for a strong fifth place finish - the final spot on the podium. "The high elevation meant I couldn't pin it that hard. I had to just spin in. I knew I needed to just keep riding and spinning and not worry about my competition. I was on the verge of cramping."

McConneloug called the course rough, but was pleasantly surprised to see that the hundreds of racers who'd already traversed the course had worn it in somed - pushing aside some of the dust.

"When Georgia passed me (on the final lap), I couldn't respond. I started focusing on the podium once I knew that winning wasn't an option today."

Race notes

- Gould was spotted wearing a bright red jersey instead of the royal blue usual Luna kit. She was promoting Luna's new brand of high performance cycling clothing, called "Luna Sport".

- Most of the top women will head next to the World Cups in Canada, starting with Mont-Sainte-Anne next weekend.

- Judy Freeman (Tough Girl / Scott) put in her best-ever nationals ride to finish seventh. The 35-year-old, from Boulder, was racing in front of friends and family. "I changed my training a bit this year - fine tuning it. It was rough out there today, but fun to race in front of the whole crowd." 


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Elite women
1Heather Irmiger (Subaru / Gary Fisher)1:55:40
2Willow Koerber (Subaru / Gary Fisher)0:02:18
3Katherine Compton (Katie Compton /Independent Fabrication)0:04:29
4Georgia Gould (Luna Pro Team)0:04:55
5Mary McConneloug (Kenda / Seven / NoTubes)0:05:59
6Pua Sawicki (Ellsworth)0:08:02
7Judy Freeman (Tough Girl / Scott)0:09:21
8Lea Davison (Maxxis / Rocky Mountain)0:10:39
9Kelli Emmett (Giant Bicycles)0:11:55
10Krista Park (Incycle / Magura / NoTubes)0:12:42
11Zephanie Blasi (Kenda / Tomac / Hayes)0:13:58
12Susan Butler (Monavie /
13Jennifer Gersbach (Dales Pale Ale Spot Brand)0:15:59
14Alison Powers (Team Type 1)0:16:07
15Amanda Carey (Kenda/Tomac/Hayes)0:16:40
16Erin Huck (Tokyo Joes)0:17:42
17Jenna Rinehart (Specialized)0:17:59
18Nina Baum (Cannondale Factory Racing)0:18:02
19Kathy Sherwin (Kenda - Tomac - Hayes)0:19:20
20Becca Blay (Mafia Racing)0:19:43
21Sarah Kaufmann (Roaring Mouse / Titus)0:20:35
22Kelly Boniface (Moots Cycles)0:21:57
23Caitlyn Tuel (Tough Girl / Scott)0:23:11
24Lindsey Bishop (Mafia Racing)0:24:51
25Laura Anderson (CB Builders / Brick Oven)0:25:01
26Maureen Kunz (Lost Coast Brewery)0:25:52
27Jamie Dinkins (Motor Mile)0:26:02
28Jennifer Tilley (Spot / Dales Pale Ale)0:26:23
29Molly Throdahl (Sports Garage)0:27:23
30Teal Stetson-Lee0:28:25
31Kylie Krauss (Independent Fabrications)0:28:40
32Erika Powers (Revolution / Peak Fasteners)0:31:14
33Kyia Anderson (Hidden Bay Sports / Cannondale)0:31:16
34Melissa Marts (Tough Girl / Scott)0:33:15
35Kristina Dominic (Directory Plus)0:33:54
36Bryna Nestor (Cannondale Factory Racing)0:59:20
37Philicia Marion (Kenda / KMC / Hayes)1:00:20
38Melody Serra (OES / BikeSource)1:01:20
39Lisa Speegle (GAS/Intrinsik Architecture)1:02:20
DNFHeather Holmes (Kenda / Tomac / Hayes)Row 39 - Cell 2
DNFSonya Bugbee (YetiBeti)Row 40 - Cell 2

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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.

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