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Interview with Trek Enduro Racer Heather Irmiger

Posted by: Matt Williams |May 5, 2013 3:18 PM
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Heather Irmiger and Jeremy Horgan Kobelski 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 Heather and JHK, 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 MTBRacenews.com about what they're up to this summer. Today, we catch up with Heather.

MTBRacenews.com: What have you been up to this winter?

Heather Irmiger: This past winter was actually pretty similar to the way I've spent winters in the past - I often spend the months between Iceman (at the beginning of November) through January focusing on fun rides, strength training, some backcountry skiing and my hot yoga practice.  Once we had our new program sorted, I felt more justified in spending even more time at the Valmont Bike Park in Boulder - I was able to work on cornering and drops as well as hit some pump track "efforts."  We spent three weeks training in Maui during January, came home for 10 days then went to a race (El Popobike Endro) in Mexico...so, really, I've been running away from winter!

MTBRacenews.com: 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?

Heather Irmiger: For the past few years I've really had my head down trying to be one of the best XC racers in the World.  After the big effort of trying to make the 2012 Olympic Team, I finally looked up.  It was then that I realized that much about the racing I had originally fallen in love with had drastically changed.  I grew up racing point to points or 2 lap circuit races which featured incredible natural terrain challenges - true mountain biking that provided a sense of spirit, adventure and epic-ness while competing with great athletes.  Today's UCI-regulated events are often short circuit races consisting of 5-9 laps on a course that has become increasingly man-made.  Due to the type of effort that these courses demand, I found that my training became more about watts, HR, and VO2 max rather than true mountain bike skill and all-mountain fitness.  I found myself avoiding singletrack or true MTB rides because they didn't fit my training.  Competing at the highest level is not something I regret - I'm very proud of my accomplishments and am honored to have raced with the World's best XC athletes.  I'm satisfied with having that experience - now, I want to get back to the roots of the sport and cater my fitness to mother nature's challenges, rather than to the lab's challenges.

MTBRacenews.com: How would you describe Enduro? What about the format is most appealing to you?

Heather Irmiger: For me, trying to strictly define Enduro would be a mistake and actually not be congruent with what Enduro is.  But, I describe Enduro racing as an all-mountain riding competition with a few key elements: there are typically multiple stages made up of timed and the un-timed transfer segments.  The timed segments are mostly downhill (say 80%).  To me, an Enduro is a race on trail that you wouldn't WANT to do on an XC bike and that you COULDN'T do on a DH bike (because of uphill or flat pedaling involved).  I find it so appealing because the courses are on great terrain, in beautiful places and demand not only a high level of fitness (ummmm, mountain biking is HARD) but also a great deal of skill.  The best all-around mountain bike rider will dominate. 

MTBRacenews.com: How did your preparation for the season change with the switch in focus?

Heather Irmiger: True trail riding at an all out effort places a huge demand on strength and power.  While I am still putting in some endurance training - Enduros can take all day and total ride time can be 4+ hrs, so you need to be able to ride a while without bonking - I am putting a much greater emphasis on technical skill, all out sprinting, and strength.  I currently do 2 heavy weight training days a week (I've never done this for XC), 2 sprint days either on the bike or running, and 2-3 riding days where I focus on difficult terrain and general shredding.  I feel so much stronger than I ever have - I no longer get sore descending and can sprint like crazy.  And, by the way, I can now do ONE "real" pull-up!!

MTBRacenews.com: Are there any traditional XC races that will make it into your schedule, or have you abandoned those entirely for the time being?

Heather Irmiger: I will be doing a couple of XC races this year.  One of the goals when switching focus was to place on emphasis on "quality events."  Quality events, to me, means: great promoters, sweet trail, a fun destination, and incredible friends and people to share the experience with.  The Whiskey 50 and Vail Mountain Games fit that bill, so those are currently on the schedule.  It's looking unlikely that I'll purchase a USAC license this year so will miss out on a few sanctioned events I would also consider quality.

MTBRacenews.com: Does USA Cycling's decision to enforce UCI Rule 1.2.019 banning pros from competing in non-sanctioned events effect you?

Heather Irmiger: It looks like this rule will not effect me.  USAC stated that the rule will not be enforced if you are not a rider on a UCI Trade Team roster, which Jeremy and I are not.  Although, there is still enough of a grey area that it is actually part of our motivation for not buying a USAC/UCI license.

MTBRacenews.com: 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?

Heather Irmiger: I think it's bad for the sport, regardless of whether or not it only effects a handful of riders.  The rule also places unnecessary pressures and stress on promoters.  The culture of racing is very different, here, from Europe and many of the rules imposed by the UCI just don't make sense in the U.S.  And...see Jeremy's answer, he pretty much nails it.

MTBRacenews.com: 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?

Heather Irmiger: I'd say it's a bit too early to tell.  So far, though, I'd say it's an evolution because the birth of Enduro is due tothe evolution of bike technology.  Endro or all-mountain bikes cater to the way people are actuallyriding.  A few years ago, if you wanted to climb fast but also have a blast downhill, there wasn't really a bike for that.  The only options were light XC bikes with minimal travel or heavy DH bikes that were capable technically but not so much anywhere else.  Riders clearly no longer wanted to make these compromises...so the bike manufacturer's responded.  Now we have 5-7 inch travel bikes that weigh as much as my XC bike did in 2005!  Racing will always be the proving ground for equipment - we put our bikes through the toughest of conditions and at the highest speeds, so Enduro racing will be an integral part to improving the technology so that the consumers get bikes that keep them grinning ear to ear.

MTBRacenews.com: 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?

Heather Irmiger: A few summer's ago, Jeremy and I borrowed my parent's truck camper for a weekend getaway with the dogs.  We had a blast - there was a place to go inside when the afternoon thunderstorms moved in or when the mosquitos were gnarly.  Also, it was awesome to have a nice space to leave the dogs while riding.  Since then, we had sort of casually been shopping around for either a truck camper, travel van, or travel trailer - but our elite XC race schedule always kept us from making the move since we weren't actually in town enough to enjoy it!  As we began to discuss our career shift, which involved a more domestic schedule, the travel trailer idea re-emerged.  We've always thought Airstream's were super cool and joked about buying one some day.  As the Enduro program came together it was clear we could drive to many of them and take our house & dogs with us.  We decided that it would be stupid NOT to buy one!  So, for 2013, we'll be traveling to our U.S. and Canadian races in our Toyota Tundra, pulling a 25ft long Airstream - we've got a shower, kitchen and plenty of space to kick back an enjoy a post-shred beer so be sure to swing buy so we can share!

MTBRacenews.com: I've seen some pretty tasty looking recipe's on your blog. Any recent finds that are worth sharing?

Heather Irmiger: I'm struggling right now with this interview because I've got South American pulled pork in the slow cooker right now:

-one chopped onion, placed in bottom of the slow cooker

-1.5 lb pork tenderloin, cut a few slits in it and cram garlic slices in there (about 3 cloves worth)

Prepare broth:

-1.5 cups of beef broth + 4 tsp ground cumin + 4 tsp oregano + enough medium-hot chilis (canned or roasted) with their sauce to bring to a total of 2 cups.  Pour this all over the pork.

-1 quartered orange, 1 quartered lime - place the quarters along the top of the pork.

-Cook 8-10 hours on low-high or 6-8 hours on high

Make tacos, eat with chips, whatever!

MTBRacenews.com: What's on your iPod mix for the summer?

Heather Irmiger: Making playlists is something I really suck at (help!) so I just listen to Pandora. Depending on my mood: Ladyhawk Radio, Barbie Girl Radio, or Johnny Cash radio for Airstreamin'



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