Monday, August 21, 2006

7/15/06 Cougar Mountain Classic -- Infineon Raceway

Yesterday I was watching the local SF news and a story came on about this guy who races mountain bikes. His thing is the downhill races. Sounds normal, but this guy is blind. A rider rides behind him and is basically his eyes. The guy lost his eyesite several years ago due to diabetes, but it hasn't stopped him down one bit.

So this had my curisity up to say the least, and I found out more about where he would be racing and realized it was right in my neck of the woods at the Infineon Raceway. I decided that today (Saturday) I'd head over there early and check things out. My other motivation for going was to find some interesting stories about women riders. I've never been to a mountain bike race in my life, have no idea how they work and the different types of races. Let alone who are the big names in the industry. So this morning about 7:30 I hoped on my motorcycle and headed for the raceway in search of some stories and not sure what I was going to get myself into.

Well I found out there were basically three types of riding. There was some road races going on, cross country mountain bike races, and then the downhill mountain bike races. I watched a little of all three and really enjoyed myself. My main goal was to find a woman who I could interview for a possible story. I didn't know where I'd find her, or how I'd find her...I just knew I needed to keep my ears and eyes open.

After watching all three races, the last being the downhill races I made my way back to the concession and racer tents. It's so motivating to be around all these healthy people who are riding their bikes all over the place. These people must really love to ride their bikes because they never get off of them.

I spotted a lady I had seen up at downhill race track and immediatly knew I needed to talk to her. I knew she had to have done the downhill race, downhill racers (after they race, plus their bikes are a little different) are very dirty and dusty looking as compared to the other racers. So here I am trying to track this woman down who is riding her bike all over the place, I finally find her back at her racing tent and go up and talk to her. Once I started to talk to her and her other team members I KNEW I had found an awesome story.

What was so cool about these women is they aren't spring chickens. The three ladies I talked to where Dana Beckstoffer 40, Nancy Harris 49 and the youngest one... Kim Gilchrist 39. They admit they break a lot of their bones, but they really love what they do and it shows. There aren't a lot of women downhill racers. Out of the 200 that were racing there were probably 10 women total. Nancy Harris said it takes a certain woman to race lots of testosterone. The truth be told, many women down hill racers aren't straight but these three were which I found rather interesting.

I plan to immediatly start working on a story about these ladies. They all have different reasons for racing downhill and different backgrounds. I think the really fascinating part was their age. You'd think more like a 20 year old would be doing this kind of racing, not someone who is about to turn 5o years of age. I just found it to be so motivating just to be able to talk to them the short time that I had.

Here's a picture of them...

From Left to right, Nancy, Dana and Kim and a dude!

Check out their website at:

Here's a picture of a part of the downhill course
You can see at the top left side some people standing at the top of the hill
and the course zig-zags down the moutain.

Again I didn't know anyone from Adam who was racing, but as I was walking around I saw this guy with a huge video camera wanting to interview this guy and girl below. So I stuck around to see what was up. Well apparently these two are are married. They both race for Subaru and their specialty is cross country mountain biking.

The guy on the left is Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski. I did a little research about the both of them...

JHK is the most prolific American mountain bike racer of the last decade. His 2005 cross country National Championship victory was his forth in a row. His resume also includes three short track National Championships. Before turning pro in 2000 he was 4-time Collegiate National Champion and 2-time Collegiate Cyclist of the Year.

And his little lady on the right...

Heather Irmiger: As winner of the 2005 NORBA NMBS cross country at Brian Head and sixth place overall finisher in the Series, She is a former Collegiate National Champion and as a professional has consistently finished on the podium despite the fact that she was working a full time job. Now she has a full factory sponsorship and can focus completely on racing.

So all in all it was a great day. I met some great people, got some great story ideas and learned a little about the world of mountain bike racing. I can't wait to go to another race!! And by the way, I never saw the blind man race, but I'm glad I heard about him because it got me to go check out something I probably wouldn't have otherwise.

I also want to mention that as I was leaving the event (which by the way is in the middle of no where) there were two ladies riding off down the road -- to who knows where. Once back in Napa I saw three other bikers who racing that weekend (I could tell by their bikes bib numbers) riding back in the direction of the raceway. It's amazing to watch people who really love doing something and feel passionate about it. Like I said, these people do not like to get off their bike, it seems they are more comfortable riding their bikes than anything else.

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