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Interview with Trek Racer Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski

Posted by: Matt Williams |April 17, 2013 3:28 PM
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Trek racers Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski and Heather Irmiger have been noticeably absent from the early season cross country races this spring. Instead, the mountain biking power couple have been training in Mexico and Boulder's Valmot Bike Park on their new Trek Remedy all mountain bikes.

It's all part of the plan for JHK and Heather, who have switched focus from XC to the growing discipline of Enduro for 2013. The couple will spend the summer traveling the US in their Airstream trailer racing the Big Mountain Enduro Series and select stops on the Enduro World Tour. They were kind enough to check in with about what they're up to this summer. Today, we hear from JHK. Stay tuned for an interview from Heather next week. What have you been up to this winter?

JHK: Well, we did our best to try and dodge winter as best we could! We did a couple trips in search of warmer weather and good riding. One to Arizona, one to Hawaii and a couple to Moab. It was super refreshing to be on a completely different training program than in the past without having to be ready for World Cup racing in March. Given the enduro focus of our schedule - training basically consists of riding our MTB's as much as possible on challenging and great trails - the exact reason we started mountain biking in the first place. You've switched things up in a big way for 2013 with a switch to Enduro racing. Why the move away from XC racing, where you've both been so successful for so long?

JHK: For me, the shift has actually been in the works for a while. I've been increasingly dissatisfied with the direction of some XCO racing and courses the last couple years. From a media and marketing perspective, the World Cup format is successful, but having done it for so many years, I was looking to get in touch with the reasons I started riding MTB's in the first place: Adventurous trails, camaraderie of riding with friends, big mountain epics and a return to the type of riding that made me fall in love with the MTB in the first place. Trek gave me a Slash trailbike partway through last year, and the rides I did with friends completely re-kindled my love for the MTB after perhaps losing touch with it a bit the past few years being so focused on XC success. I wasn't actually looking for a new competitive outlet, just an avenue to reconnect with my passion for mountain biking. How would you describe Enduro? What about the format is most appealing to you?

JHK: I would describe Enduro racing as a big day out on the bike where you time and race the most fun sections of trail. There are numerous things that appeal to me about it at this point in my career. The modern World Cup courses don't really place any premium on actually being a great trail rider, since the courses are so manicured and short. Success has become nearly 100% about how many watts you can produce, which is a real shift from when I began racing, when hour-long climbs and 20 minute descents were common in Colorado XC races. I like that to be successful at enduro racing you need to be really fit, which I enjoy, but you also actually need to be able to ride a mountain bike well. How did your preparation for the season change with the switch in focus?

JHK: I have changed up quite a few things for this year. I've tried to ride more singletrack throughout the winter than in the past, which is part of the reason for some of the travel. I've spent time on the slopestyle course here in Boulder at the Valmont Bike Park working on the park skills, which I'll continue with more when Trestle opens for the season in Winter Park. 

I also lifted weights this winter (and am still doing so a couple times a week) to build more core and upper body strength than I would have if I were just going to race XC. It's made a big difference, I feel much better on the bike on demanding trails and long tiring descents.

Part of the switch has also been to unlearn some bad XC habits as far as trail riding goes. 20 years of riding with a super-high saddle has conditioned me to use a certain body position that I don't need to (and isn't optimal) when shredding a trail with a dropper post. Are there any traditional XC races that will make it into your schedule, or have you abandoned those entirely for the time being?

JHK: I will do a couple. Right now Whiskey 50 and the Vail Mountain Games are on the radar. I will still jump in to the XC here and there that's a great event, with a good participant experience and fun vibe for the spectators. Does USA Cycling's decision to enforce UCI Rule 1.2.019 banning pros from competing in non-sanctioned events effect you?

JHK: Not directly, as I've been intentionally left off of Trek Factory Racing's UCI roster for this reason, and UCI trade-team pros are the only group of riders they've indicated they will enforce the rule for. In fact, since I'm not interested in pursuing success at the World Cup level anymore, I may not even take out a UCI license this year since many of the best XC races are unsanctioned, as well as the whole enduro calendar. There's been a lot of talk from folks about how this rule is going to hurt mountain biking. From you perspective, is that an argument that has merit? Or does the ruling effect a small enough group of mountain bike racers that it's effect will be limited?

JHK: It absolutely has merit. I was a USAC board member for eight years, and I think the enforcement of this rule is the single worst decision they've made as far as mountain bike growth in this country and has the potential to undo many positive things they've worked hard on. Mountain biking is SO different from the road in terms of team structure, finance, and most importantly culture. It's a poor tactic to try and strong-arm these promoters into sanctioning by excluding pros who's presence would benefit everyone associated with the event. USAC's assertion that pros should have to decide "between World Cup racing and winning local unsanctioned races" shows a serious lack of understanding about 1) the extremely high quality of these events, and 2) the way mountain biking works in this country. It's really frustrating to see this, as there is a place in the sport for USAC, and there are good people involved who actually understand mountain biking, but the bottom line is that this is a damaging and poor decision. I hope they revisit it and that it continues to get media attention. How do you think the growth of Enduro racing is affecting the world of mountain bike racing more generally? Is it an evolution or a fundamental shift?

JHK: This is a big question. Mountain biking is much more fragmented than it was 10 years ago - which isn't a bad thing, it's come in part because of sustainable growth as an industry. 10-15 years ago there was XC and gravity racing - now there's Marathon, 100 milers, 24 hour racing, enduro, XC, etc... There are so many events on the calendar that it's difficult to pull all the top riders around one series or format. When I started racing, if you went into a bike shop to buy a mountain bike, there was basically one: a 26" hardtail - and you raced XC, DH, whatever on it. Now, you can buy a racing hardtail, a downhill bike, and any number of other bikes in between - 100mm, 120mm, 140mm, 150mm, 160mm travel bikes, 26" wheels, 29" wheels, etc.. 

One of the intriguing things to me about enduro is that it seems like the most relevant format for the consumer - it's the one format where the bikes I race are the same ones that an enthusiast - not a hard-core racer - would purchase and ride everyday. Additionally, it's a format where you can be successful without dedicating your life to training, which isn't really possible at the highest level of XC, which is even life-consuming at the top amateur level. Many of the best riders I know in Colorado have kids, jobs, or other obligations that would preclude them from a big-time XC career - but they can flat-out shred on a trailbike and can do really well at Enduro racing since they're fit and can ride a bike. This broader appeal makes me think that Enduro racing has the potential to fundamentally alter mountain bike racing at the participant level. You've got a pretty cool rig set up for traveling to races this summer? Can you describe your set-up to folks and tell us how it came about?

JHK: I had no idea how cool it would be until we actually pulled the trigger and bought it. We've got a 25' Airstream Safari that we'll be traveling and living out of this summer. We've taken it on a couple Moab trips already, and it's been amazing to just drive it to a great destination, do a big ride, and chill out and cook dinner wherever we are. I've seen some pretty tasty looking recipe's on your blog. Any recent finds that are worth sharing?

JHK: I'll let Heather take this one - she's the expert. What's on your iPod mix for the summer?

JHK: I've given up on individual mixes these days and just listen to Pandora stations that I make. A couple of my favorites right now are Ladytron and Goldfrapp Radio. We've got a sweet Johnny Cash station for pulling the Airstream around. 

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