Back-to-back for Firecracker’s First Couple
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE — As fat tire hall of famer Dave Wiens put it, the Firecracker 50 mountain bike race is full of “carnage.”
The grueling course – that features a pair of 25-mile laps – twists and turns through the trails of Breckenridge, and along the way, flat tires, crashes and bike breakdowns are simply part of the ride.
None of that, however, was enough to derail the First Couple of the Firecracker – Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger.
The married pro riders both cruised to the finish line in Carter Park on Sunday with a win well in hand, earning each of them, for the second straight year, the official title of national champion.
“It is so special,” Horgan-Kobelski said of taking the first-place stars-and-stripes jersey on Independence Day. “It’s more pressure any time you have to come in and defend a title. So that feeling of crossing the finish line with (the win) in the bag – It’s a great feeling.”
A capacity 750 riders competed in this year’s Firecracker, which served as the USA Cycling Marathon MTB National Championships for the fourth year in a row. In all, 14 national titles were awarded in Breck among an array of category winners.
With so much on the line in Breck, the start list for the pro divisions looked like a “who’s-who” of MTB racing with many of the sport’s biggest stars in the field.
And no title came easily, despite what the times – and winning margins – of Horgan-Kobelski and Irmiger may suggest.
After beating out Amy Dombroski for the women’s win by more than six minutes, Irmiger couldn’t hide her relief, not just in defending her title but making it off the course.
“Whew, I’m glad I’m here, I’m glad I made it,” she said with a laugh. “It’s surprisingly more nerve wracking when you’re defending.”
Krista Park finished third.
Irmiger, who became just the second female rider to win back-to-back titles at the race, fought through some cramping on the final stretch of the last lap, but was able to get through the entire race without much technical difficulty.
Her husband wasn’t so lucky.
Despite taking an early lead, a blown tire put Horgan-Kobelski back to about fifth place at the turn of Lap 1.
Although the flat certainly gave him a bit of kick-start to push harder, Horgan-Kobelski said it was tough to catch up to the leaders.
“I just told myself I had more than two hours to make it up,” he said. “I had to ride harder than I normally would have to catch up.”
Sam Schultz had taken the lead when Horgan-Kobelski went down, but the defending champ caught up quickly on the second lap.
In the end, Horgan-Kobelski topped the podium again, with Schultz in second and Wiens in third.
And Horgan-Kobelski was relieved.
“This course is hard on your bike, man,” he said, still thinking about his flat. “I feel fortunate to have done two of these with only one flat. That’s not bad.”
Neither was his winning time of 3 hours, 35 minutes and 59 seconds. With the win, he became the first male multiple winner in the race’s history.
For Wiens – the six-time Leadville Trail 100 MTB winner – the podium spot marked his best finish in Breck since winning the inaugural Firecracker in 2001. Not bad for someone who just turned 45 and considers himself retired.
“It’s fun. I’m a competitive guy,” he said. “I like to get out here and compete with the young guys and try to surprise myself.”
One thing that didn’t catch Wiens off guard was the severity of the course.
“Anything can happen in this race,” he said. “So, a couple flat tires and things, and I just kept moving up. That’s what you have to do here.”
For full results from all of the race’s divisions, visit http://www.mavsports.com.
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