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By Jason Sumner
The husband-and-wife duo of Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger made the most of a late November trip to Texas, each taking respective wins at the Mellow Johnny’s Classic cross-country race on Sunday.
The first year event was hosted by — and contested on the private trails of — Lance Armstrong, whose 450-acre ranch resides in the rolling hills about an hour west of Austin.
Unfortunately for Armstrong, land ownership did not yield any tangible home-course advantage. Instead, the 2009 Leadville 100 champ flatted early in the first of three eight-mile laps, and was a DNF.
“Agh!!!!! Wha?!?,” Armstrong posted. “Flatted out of the @mellowclassic – running second to @jeremyhk . I didn’t think the flat gods would do this @ my own place!”
With or without Armstrong in the mix, it was all JHK all day. The 2004 Olympian and multi-time U.S. national champion took the front early in the first lap, and never looked back, winning with ample time to spare.
Horgan-Kobelski turned a blistering 34-minute first lap on a course short on big climbs, but long on twists, turns, berms and rocks. By the end of lap No. 2 the Subaru-Gary Fisher rider was more than four minutes up on eventual second-place finisher Bryan Fawley (Park Place-Dallas Metal), who’s considered the best of the local Austin racers.
But the distance between best local guy and former Olympian is a yawning gap. The final margin between first and second was almost seven minutes. Former Texas MTB scene heavy hitter Jason Sager (Jamis) was third, 10 minutes and 16 seconds behind.
“I wanted to split it up right away and make a selection right from the beginning,” explained Horgan-Kobelski. “The trail was still pretty slick so you could still make some separations out there. Then partway through the first lap, I was all by myself so I decided to just keep going.”
Indeed, trail conditions were tough for all 600-plus racers who toed the still-moist start line. The normally dry and dusty singletrack was turned gooey, greasy or worse by heavy rains that fell throughout the preceding Friday. Saturday was drier, but the sun didn’t come out in earnest until Sunday afternoon.
That left racers to contest with gummed up drivetrains, lots of slippery roots and rocks, and several sections of mud so sticky it felt like you were riding through glue.
“I just went off the front and had a lot of fun out there,” said Irmiger. “There were a couple other girls that were close for a little bit, but I didn’t really look back.”
About 45 minutes after the winners had finished, Armstrong reappeared at the finish to assist with the podium proceedings. After giving thanks to race staff and volunteers, and further lamenting that injustice of flatting out of one’s own race, he addressed the future of the event.
“Now we just have to figure out next year,” he said, drawing raucous applause from the sizable crowd. “Maybe we should do a spring and a fall race?”
If year one was any barometer, the answer is yes.