Heather Irmiger and Ross Schnell win at the SSWC in Durango, and get the tats to prove it.

  • By
  • Published Sep. 20, 2009
  • Updated Jan. 31, 2016 at 7:02 PM EDT

By Greg Keller

2009 Singlespeed worlds: A Pilot must always be ready.

Photo: Greg Keller

Editor’s Note: This column marks the return of a popular rider journal, the Mud and Cowbells report, by Greg Keller and Brandon Dwight. The first report is from this weekend’s Single Speed Mountain Bike World Championships in Durango, Colorado. 

The journey began Friday afternoon, right after this worker-bee, family guy, bike racer finished up a board meeting at work, scooped up his bud Pete Webber, minivan packed to the gills with single speed and cyclocross bikes, wheels and equipment and we headed off due south.

Destination: D-town, Durango, Colorado; host city to the inaugural UCI Mountain Bike Worlds Championships in 1990. This year Durango would play host to the Single Speed Mountain Bike World Championships, leveraging its rich fat tire history to win the bid for the race.

There’s a back story to this first leg of the road trip though … a re-uniting of some old friends: The Intergalactic Pilots. The Pilots are a motley band of hardened and often crusty mountain bike racers who’ve been going on secret one-geared missions over the years, including many SSWC’s in the past. This crew is known for infamous acts of single-speeddom … like riding to airports with nothing but a back pack, getting on planes with their man (and women) scents proudly wafting in the enclosed aluminum tube for the 3-4 hour flight for their fellow passengers to enjoy, race, participate in debauchery only to go back to the airport, get on the return flight, re-perfume the plane having not showered for likely 48 hours or more. Epic.

I’d get to be an interloper to the antics.

2009 Singlespeed worlds: Heather Irmiger and JHK getting ready.

Photo: Greg Keller

The ‘Pilot Gathering’ took take place at Travis Brown and Mary Monroe’s house. An unbelievable dinner was prepared along with healthy doses of adult beverages. There was talk of old Pilot Missions, recent race stories, the fact that Pilot brethren and VeloNews diarist Brandon Dwight couldn’t make this trip, the coming of ‘cross season and of course the race looming over us in the morning: the Single Speed Worlds.

Heather Irmiger panned around the table and just laid it out there: “You know, someone from this table is going to win tomorrow.” Some gut laughs ensued followed by a collective pondering ‘hmmmm’ by us all.

The SSWC race was unbelievably well run. The Durango crew had everything dialed, managing over 1000 mountain bike racers from our registration, to queuing at the start to the on-course management through to the party at the finish.

We started en masse, me in the world’s worst staring position of all time back in the masses. We went from immediate 20 percent pavement climbs into cherry single track onto even more beautiful trail. I never really felt like I was racing … more like on a maddeningly beautiful (yet hard) ride.

The course was a 19-plus mile mixture of classic Colorado high desert topography. Tree-lined single track to slick rock to technical rock gardens.

Fans were lining much of the course, cheering and providing ‘needed’ beverage hand ups. The course featured monster elevation gains due to the killer climbs that forced riders to dismount and hike in long, slow-moving trains which pinned your heart rate.

2009 Singlespeed worlds: Irmiger’s tat, in process.

Photo: Greg Keller

At 7,000+ feet, the flat landers were gasping audibly. I gained tons of spots by ‘crossing up past dudes up the side of the mountain, bike on back. My Type A-ness got the best of me and I couldn’t wait any longer in the ‘queue’!

Meanwhile up front, the leaders were laying serious wood. Ross, Jeremy, Shriver, Travis, and Ned were all trading time at the front. Heather was basically shattering the women’s field simultaneously … and most of the men’s field … on her eventual ride to victory (and tattoo). Then: ‘Pilot Down’!

2009 Singlespeed worlds: The media scrum surrounded Irmiger.

Photo: Greg Keller

Travis had an unfortunate crash that took him out. I heard this when I came in and was totally disheartened. His home town and all his efforts to work with the crew here in Durango to organize and make the race pro — ended with him in the back of an ambulance. It was a total bummer. I came across the line in 2:22, the winners having shockingly pulled off sub-2-hour rides. I was in awe. But the beer provided by Oskar Blue’s Brewery was like heaven.

So the tradition when you win the single speed worlds is to get inked. Or in the case of Travis some years back, to get branded. Ross Schnell and Heather would get their ink done by a local tattooing legend. Both took their medicine and bit the proverbial silver bullet as the electric needle was fired up. Hoards of people were cheering and raising a beer in honor as the indelible reminder of their victory was lovingly embedded into their skin for all of us to watch.

Tattoos affixed, we proceeded to get our groove on, beers flowing compliments of Durango’s Ska Brewing, where we all were treated to the basketball game/spectacle between the Italians and the New Zealanders.

This was a battle royale to decide next year’s Single Speed Worlds locale. New Zealand took it in a tough match … but I will never, repeat ever, subject myself to watching cyclists play hoops again. I’d rather chew tinfoil. New Zealand in September could be interesting though.

2009 Singlespeed worlds: Ross Schnell at the awards ceremony, pre-inked.

Photo: Greg Keller

So that’s it for this first diary entry folks! Next stop: Vegas. InterBike and Cross Vegas. Time to get beat up by three-time world Cyclocross champion Erwin Vervecken. Hup, hup!

Thanks for reading!

Greg Keller is the author of, a blog dedicated to the antics on knobby tires both big and small, the balance of family, racing and work and is resident product geek at Lijit Networks in Boulder, Colorado.

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FILED UNDER: Mountain / MTB / News

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