HomeNews & FeaturesMTBInterview: Top Mountain Biker Heather Irmiger

Interview: Top Mountain Biker Heather Irmiger

The 31year old Heather Irmiger comes from Boulder, Colorado where she continues to live today. Heather started racing for the Gary Fisher sponsored Tokyo Joes team, Early in her career, Heather earned an individual National Championship in both downhill and Omnium and was three time member of the NCCA All American Cycling Team.

With over 50 NORBA podium finishes, 2008 Olympic Long Team member she has continued to perform now the 2009 U.S. XC and Marathon National Champion Single Speed World Champion and the 2009 Short Track Series title.

Heather is married to Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski also a top level MTBer, Olympian + Nine Time National Champion with the Subaru-Gary Fisher Team. The season is now underway and in full swing and we caught up with Heather to find out how she is riding, what she is riding, her future and what it’s like to be a professional MTB’er.

RC (BNA) finds out more Heather, her equipment, training and goals plus also explains the Crocodile Trophy.

BNA: How old were you when you first started Mountain Biking?

I started mountain biking when I was 12 years old – mountain bike rides were a normal activity for my family. I grew up thinking singletrack rides were totally normal for every kid!

BNA: Tell us about your race bike and equipment

I race a Gary Fisher Superfly 29er with SRAM XX Drive train (Cranks are 170mm, 39/26 rings, 11/36 cassette), XX Brakes/Levers, XX Shifters, REBA XX 29 Fork with XLoc, Bontrager RXL Wheelset, Bontrager RXL Stem (80mm, Neg 17 deg), RXL Handlebar (low rise, 9 degree sweep, cut to 630mm) and Big Earl Seatpost.  Crankbrothers 11 Pedals, Cane Creek 110 ZS Headset, ESI Grips and Stan’s Race Tire Sealant.  I’ve been switching between the Bontrager 29.0 and 29.3 for tires, depending on the course.

BNA: Where are your favourite places to ride? Have you ridden in Australia?  

I’m a real sucker for any bit of high altitude singletrack – I love anything with rocky but tacky soil, the smell of pine trees, and river crossings – aka Colorado riding. Moab is also an amazing place to ride – very cool desert features you can’t find anywhere else. I have ridden in Australia – on the 2009 World Championships course in Canberra. I LOVED this course!  Although it wasn’t forested, the singletrack was rocky and reminded me of home. I also loved the technical sections like the “hammer head.”

BNA: Is there anyone in the MTB scene you look up to?

Overall, I really look up to all my teammates. They each have personality traits that I could meld into one great mentor and hero.  Willow is passionate, Sam is positive and upbeat, and Jeremy has an outstanding amount of confidence and self-belief. All these traits make an amazing athlete and I strive to embody these.

BNA: What’s the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome as a professional MTBer?

My biggest obstacle was a nagging knee injury I had as a young Pro. I struggled with a congenital knee defect for three years which flared up every time I started to feel fit. I made it onto a “big” team and then lost the spot. This in addition to the mental struggle of always being in pain and feeling like I would never solve the problem pushed me to the point where I nearly quit all together. Without a doctor who cared, patience and a supportive husband, I would’t be racing today.

BNA: At the top level of MTBing, what’s your training routine like? Is there anything specific you do?

My training involves a lot of mountain biking and big power work. I spend a lot of my training hours working on big gear efforts to help build a big aerobic engine. As the racing season begins, the hours definitely go down quite a bit as racing and traveling internationally start to hog up recovery time. I truly spend as much time as I can on the MTB though – whether it be on the road to get to a trail or all trail riding. I love being on the dirt, it makes me exponentially happier and a happy athlete is a fast athlete.

BNA: Okay, so we heard about your ban on stationary rollers or trainers, when was this self imposed and why? What do you do when it’s cold?

The answer to this question goes back to a happy athlete is a fast athlete!  The mental monotony of riding a trainer inside just makes me feel insane and I find nothing about it fun 😉 Fortunately, I live in a great place where I am only :45min away from incredible backcountry skiing.  I have a full Randonee (AT) ski set up. When it’s too snowy or cold, I head into the backcountry. The workout is so much like mountain biking – you climb a mountain, descend a mountain, repeat. I’ve enjoyed learning about avalanche danger and safety in the backcountry. I just love being outside so much – since I have access to an activity that builds my cycling fitness just as well as riding, I choose to be out! This has been the theme for the past 2 years – the time I rented the equipment to see if I liked the sport. I bought a full package the next day and haven’t taken the trainer out of the attic since. Anyone want to buy a trainer?

BNA: What are your goals for 2010 and beyond?

My immediate goals are to defend my 2 National titles: Marathon and XC as well as possibly add the third: STXC! Beyond? I am ready for the next big thing – I want to win international races, to beat the best of the best.  I’d like to stand at the top of podium at World Cups and World Championships. Also, I am definitely aiming to make the 2012 Olympic Team.

BNA: Your husband also races for the Subaru-Gary Fisher Team, do you guys train together?

Jeremy and I can’t really train together – he’s pretty much always way faster than me (unless he’s coming down with the flu or something). That said, we do head out together sometimes – he climbs ahead and turns around to pick me up again – he climbs double and I go extra, extra hard because I like to see how short of a time I can keep him waiting. We train the most together when we’re in foreign areas – I was not born with an internal GPS and would get lost in a heartbeat if I didn’t have someone with good navigational skills to follow!

BNA: Have you and Jeremy thought about doing any enduro events as a husband and wife team? Have you heard about the Crocodile Trophy in Australia?

We actually have discussed it – I currently have a bit of an aversion to being on my bike more than 5 hours…just doesn’t sound fun! Other times, though, I think it’d be really cool – I bet it’d be crazy how fast we could go! I actually haven’t heard about the Crocodile Trophy….tell me about it?

The Crocodile Trophy 2010 is one of the most challenging and adventurous MTB stage races in Australia… probably the world! This year “the Croc” starts in Cairns on 19 October 2010 and in 10 days the racers cover 1200km and 12,000m of elevation on their way through the rough Outback to Cape Tribulation.

BNA: Women and 29″ers.The philosophy is that 29ers are meant for taller riders. You like riding a 29’er, what benefits do you get from riding a 29’er?

The taller rider argument is just silly. My teammate, Willow, is 5’2″ and crushes it on a small SuperFly. I think some of this philosophy comes from the beginning when 29 geometries were still a little weird: slow steering, for example AND when the equipment was so new and still quite heavy. A couple years ago, a 29er weighed 26 lbs with most of the weight being in the wheels. At this weight, any rider, but especially a small rider, would be at a big disadvantage when compared to a 22lb hardtail. Now, my race bike is around the 21lb mark and the geometry of the Gary Fisher bikes (I can’t speak for other brands) is UNBELIEVABLE….they steer like a 26 inch bike (so, really well in tight singletrack, etc) but the big wheel base offers better cornering traction and gets less hung up on technical sections. The wheels will always be a little heavier, but the riding benefit is worth the trade off these days (now that equipment is getting really light). My favorite analogy is one that Jeremy came up with – a BMX bike has smaller/lighter wheels than an 26 inch bike, but would you want to bomb down rooty singletrack on it?

BNA: What advice can you give to a girl new into the sport?

I think riding with the boys is something that frustrates a lot of women, but it’s also a great way to push yourself. Find a group of guys that aren’t bent on humiliating you or proving a huge point (they do exist) and try to hang on their wheels through hard technical sections. But, also, ride with the girls – we understand each other better and are very good at teaching each other things. In general, I think always riding with your significant other or taking “advice” from them will often times get everyone in trouble!

BNA: What’s currently on your Ipod?

I’m really bad at making playlists but I like to hit shuffle. On any given training ride I’ll get a little 50cent, Paul Oakenfold, Goldfrapp, Rhianna, Modanna, White Stripes, Deadmau5, Benni Benassi, Beck, Nine Inch Nails. I’m all over the place – sometimes I want Eurotrashy techno music and other times I feel like kickin’ gangsta’.

Thanks very much for your time and good luck in 2010. We may see you at the Crocodile Trophy!

has contributed this article to Bicycles Network Australia.
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