Subaru-Trek racer Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski had, by his standards, a lackluster spring campaign this season. However, a recent win at the Teva Games and three podiums at last weekends National Championships are a reminder that the Boulder, CO based Horgan-Kobelski should never be counted out once the gun goes off.
JHK recently took some time to check in with MTBRacenews.com about his spring, the state of World Cup race courses, and what he sees as the future of mountain bike racing.
MTBRacenews.com: It seems like maybe this spring wasnít the best for you. Whatís the difference between this season, thus far, and the years when youíve dominated the North American racing scene?
JHK: Yeah, this spring was definitely a bit of a bust for me. One of the biggest changes Iíve struggled with is how early the season starts now. When I made the Olympic team in 2004, the first World Cup race was in late May. Now, the World Cup starts at the beginning of March, two and a half months earlier. Throughout my career, even the years when Iíve dominated the scene, it usually takes me until June Ė July for me to really come into winning form. Obviously I knew that this year, and I made adjustments to my training Ė more CX racing to keep the intensity up and a shorter break overall, but it clearly didnít make much of a difference. My body seems like it needs a month or two of MTB racing before it hits that top level.
MTBRacenews.com: It must have been disappointing not to make the Olympic Team. When did you start to sense that it wasnít going to happen for you this year?
JHK: It was a very compressed selection this year, with only 4 World Cup races before the selection date. I knew after the race in Houffalize that Iíd have to break out a couple big results at the next two World Cups. I thought it was possible, but I had a pretty big hole to dig out of after not even making it into the points at the first World Cup in South Africa. Starting at the back is such a huge disadvantage these days with the shorter courses that unless you have the form of your life itís almost impossible to make a big move up through the ranks.
I got pretty sick on the way to South Africa and really suffered through that race, which unfortunately is what ended up setting the tone for my spring World Cup campaign. To make the Olympic team, everything really has to fall into place, and the bottom line is that just didnít happen for me this year. Itís frustrating to race below where you know your potential is, but having so many career accomplishments that Iím really proud of tempers my disappointment a lot.
MTBRacenews.com: What are your main goals for the rest of the season?
JHK: Iím focusing more on the final domestic races of the year, Nationals, ProXCT finals, and possibly Marathon Nationals in September. I really like the course in Sun Valley Ė and Iíd like to notch a great result there. Despite having won a bunch of National titles, Iím still pretty motivated by the thought of pulling on that jersey.
MTBRacenews.com: Youíve been critical of the current World Cup course format. What would your ideal race course look like?
JHK: This is a great question, with a complicated answer. Personally, I think that the current World Cup format is a dumbed-down version of true XC racing. I miss the adventure that XC mountain bike racing used to be, with huge climbs, long technical descents and a big mix of natural challenging terrain. I like to feel like I actually went somewhere, rather than just racing around a 4km loop for an hour and half.
The current courses donít offer opportunities for a really good climber or descender to showcase their skills in a way that reflects the roots of the sport. The manicured technical sections and drops are fun, and exciting for spectators, but itís not really possible for a better rider to gain an advantage over another with just a 2-second long chute or drop. Similarly, the average climb in a World Cup race is probably about a minute long Ė so the physical aspect has been reduced to how many 500-watt efforts you can do over and over and over again. All of this coupled with short 1:30 race times makes the racing a virtual parade of riders all racing within seconds of each other Ė mostly in the order that they started since everyone can race at almost the same high speed for that distance.
That said, the course format does work on some level for video coverage (TV or Internet) of the top riders at these top-level events. I think itís possible to build a viable World Cup series based on this format, since itís good for spectators and media. The big issue though, is that the UCI is mandating this format for every UCI race regardless of whether itís a World Cup or not. This is killing the sport at the local level, since nobody wants to participate in races like this in North America Ė where MTB racing is a participant driven, not spectator-driven, sport. The danger to the industry with this model is that the World Cup becomes increasingly irrelevant to the average MTB consumer. Thereís no question that this is already happening, which is why UCI format races like the ProXCT are having so much difficulty finding traction in this country.
However, itís also why weíre seeing great growth in other events; stage races, 50 milers, and Enduro racing. These events reflect the challenges that we all embraced when we got into riding mountain bikes.
MTBRacenews.com: Racing seems to be becoming increasingly specialized. Now weíve got cross country, 50 and 100 milers, MTB stage races, Super D, Enduro, and Eliminator racing, to name a few. What effect does that diversification have on traditional cross country racing? Do you have any interest in switching your focus to something other than World Cups and Pro XCTís in the near future?
JHK: If people are smart, embracing this diversification will be great for the future of XC racing. Broadening the definition of whatís available to an XC racer like myself will create opportunity in the sport and generate interest for the industry. There are so many good events on the calendar that fall outside the traditional definition of "XCĒ. I feel like currently Iím missing out on some good opportunities for generating exposure for the team and my sponsors by sticking only to UCI events.
So, on that note, I absolutely would like to participate in a wider variety of disciplines. Some of my favorite races the past few years have been 50 and 100 mile events, even stage races. I am going to jump into an Enduro or two before this year is over.
MTBRacenews.com: Whatís your favorite mid-ride snack on a long training ride?
JHK: One of my favorite mid-ride snacks is a simple packet of maple almond butter. Iíve been training and racing for so long that I am consistently sick of bars and gels, and I try to eat "regularĒ food whenever possible when Iím riding.
MTBRacenews.com: Whatís it like being married to your teammate and a fellow pro racer? Does it make racing easier? Are there major challenges? Do you train together?
JHK: Itís awesome. Heather and I have had so many incredible experiences traveling and racing together, and I know Iím really fortunate to have been able to share a lot of my career with another person. It definitely makes the travel easier, but not necessarily the racing.
There are a variety of challenges. Professional athletics is a high-pressure profession at times, and having two people immersed in the day-to-day of it can be hard on a relationship. We donít train together that often. We frequently start rides together and then part with a wave to do our own workouts.
MTBRacenews.com: Most folks would jump at the opportunity to get paid to race their bike. But thereís more to being a pro racer than just riding a lot. Whatís something you do as a professional racer that people might not think is part of the job?
JHK: Itís truer than ever that thereís more to being a professional than just riding your bike. When people think about the "full-timeĒ job of being a professional athlete, they often think about the constant training, eating right, recovery, etc. On top of that though, is the business end of being a professional Ė which is becoming ever more important in the current age of self-driven social media and the constant contact available on the Internet. Athletes have more tools at their disposal these days for self-promotion, but itís a big job to do it right. Ultimately itís an entrepreneurial venture and youíre in charge of managing your personal brand. Itís not an exaggeration so say that Iíve received quite a good education in marketing through just living my racing career!
MTBRacenews.com: Will you be spending more time on your Superfly hardtail or your Superfly 100 full suspension bike this season?
JHK: Iíve raced my Superfly 100 more than my Superfly hardtail so far this year. I love both bikes, but I am finding myself reaching for the dually more and more. Iíve had one since 2009, but I feel like Iím still finding new places where itís a huge advantage. For example, I raced it to victory at the Teva Games in Vail this year Ė traditionally a hardtail course -- and thereís no question that it was faster. Iíve had a hard time answering this question in the past, but if I could only keep one bike it would be the 100.
MTBRacenews.com: You get to ride all over the world. If you had a week to go ride anywhere, where would it be and why?
JHK: New Zealand, no question. Iíve already been twice, once for the UCI World Championships and once for the Single Speed World Championships, and I feel like I havenít even scratched the surface. Itís the most amazing country Iíve visited with spectacular terrain and fantastic people. I canít wait to go back.