What: Go Pro Mountain Games
When: June 6-9, various events all weekend
More info: http://mountaingames.com/
To follow Heather Irmiger and Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski: http://jhkandheather.com/
Boulder mountain bikers Heather Irmiger and Jeremy "JHK" Horgan-Kobelski met while attending the University of Colorado, got married and have since been traveling around the world as professional cyclists.
This season, though, they bought an Airstream Safari van, made the switch to enduro mountain bike racing and have been traveling around the United States and Canada as part of this new stage in their cycling careers and life together.
This weekend, Irmiger and Horgan-Kobelski will revert back to their roots and compete in the cross-country mountain bike event at the Go Pro Mountain Games in Vail. Horgan-Kobelski said the two still compete in cross-country events to keep fit for enduro racing, and Irmiger gets a special thrill from racing at altitude.
The two met at a party on campus in the early 2000s, though they knew of each other through the CU cycling team. Horgan-Kobelski graduated with high honors and a degree in applied mathematics in 2002, while Irmiger finished up a year or so later.
Irmiger, who's lived in Boulder for most of her life, said she knew she wanted to be a professional mountain biker when she was 16 years old. She began riding with Boulder's development group, Singletrack Mountain Bike Adventures, as a young teen and eventually worked her way up to coaching for SMBA.
Now, she's one of the organizations most prolific alumna and an "amazing" role model and mentor to female cyclists, said SMBA founder Matt Tomasko.
"She's been instrumental in helping define female mountain biking at all levels," Tomasko said. "She sets an example with her work ethic and her skills. She's an amazing descender on the bike, solid on the climbs with incredible mental toughness as well."
When Horgan-Kobelski and Irmiger started dating, she instantly had a social network of professional athletes because of him, she said. They got married in October of 2005 -- making sure to keep all things bikes out of their ceremony so as not to let their jobs define them.
Irmiger took time off from racing to get a master's degree in integrative physiology and do research for CU before committing to racing professionally again.
Some of Irmiger's accomplishments include several national titles in both marathon and cross-country events and being a six-time member of the U.S. world championships team. Horgan-Kobelski has won dozens of national titles in marathon, cross-country and short track events, and competed for the U.S. in the 2004 Olympics.
"It's remarkable the hard work they've put into the sport and the results they've received with those efforts," SMBA founder Tomasko said of the couple. "Their competitions across the globe has spoken to their consistency as top level athletes. It goes to show that it doesn't happen overnight."
Together, they're a winning couple that's dominated the sport for the last several years. But traveling internationally and being married to another professional athlete was challenging at times, they both admitted.
Though the benefits of being a pair of professional mountain bikers outweighed the negatives, they traveled constantly -- often not together. If one of them had a bad race, it was their livelihood as a couple on the line, Horgan-Kobelski said.
This year is Horgan-Kobelski's 20th year of racing, so they decided to chart a new path in their professional cycling careers -- enduro racing.
"After last year, I kind of just wanted to change it up a little bit," Horgan-Kobelski said. "I was just ready for a change. So after having a lot of success at that, I've thrown my hat into the ring for enduro, and that's what I'm focusing my season on."
Enduro racing, he explains, is a long ride broken into multiple time and untimed stages. The timed sections are predominately downhill, which typically rewards good technical riders and bike handlers. In between the stages, there's time to chat with other cyclists, something both Irmiger and Horgan-Kobelski say they enjoy.
Irmiger and Horgan-Kobelski "accidentally" ended up on the same team, Trek Factory Racing, Irmiger said. They're a two-person show; Horgan-Kobelski is the mechanic, and they get to travel the country together in their van making up the entire Trek enduro team, he said, laughing.
Now, they get to spend more time together, the racing is a bit more casual and they can bring their two dogs, Brava and Kobi, along with them in the van.
The best part is watching other mountain bikers and actually appreciating how good they are, as opposed to only wanting to beat them, Irmiger said of enduro racing.
"It's so incredible to see how well people ride," Irmiger said. "It sounds strange to think in cross-country racing you wouldn't get that, but you're so focused on trying to beat somebody or out-climb them, you don't get that sense of what it's like to ride with people. It's really neat to get down to the bottom and watch the next person come down and be like, 'holy crap they're really fast.'"
They like to make time for the mountain games in Vail because it's a Colorado race and because historically the two of them have done well there. Horgan-Kobelski won the games several times and Irmiger has won it and has several top-five finishes. Irmiger said she gets a "secret rush" from being able to breathe nothing at altitude.
"We'll see whether I'll be in the mix this weekend," Horgan-Kobelski said.
--Follow Sarah Kuta on Twitter: @SarahKuta.