Organizers for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic had the goal of creating a spectacle in the second year of holding a BMX straight rhythm race in downtown Durango, and with a longer, faster course that saw bigger features, the racers did not disappoint Sunday afternoon.
Collin Hudson repeated as champion in the men’s pro race, as the Colorado Mesa University rider from Longmont sneaked past Layne Gainer, out of Mesa, Arizona, by .002 seconds in the final.
“It makes it so much cooler,” Hudson said of defending his title. “This year was a lot more stacked; there were a lot more fast guys. Layne Gainer is one of the fastest pump racers in the world, so it was awesome to be able to edge him out by two thousandths of a second.”
The women’s pro race turned in a thrilling finish as well. Elena Henderson, racing out of San Diego, upset Rachel Mydock, the top qualifier for the race out of Chandler, Arizona, in the finals after Henderson decided to send it over a massive jump on Main Avenue during the finals, and that propelled her to the victory.
“I was kind of tripping over the container jump,” Henderson said. “The track was a little soft in the beginning, but it got harder and faster throughout the day, so in the final I just went for it. I kind of knew if I didn’t go over it, it would be a really tight race, but if I did jump it I’d have a good chance of winning.
“I didn’t hit it at all (during qualifying), the final was my first time hitting it. I was definitely nervous. I was eying it up and watched a lot of the guys hit with not too much speed, and everyone was saying it was pretty easy.”
Racers had the option of jumping over a storage container on Main Avenue, which served as a walk-through area for spectators, or riding up a steep ramp to get over the container. Jumping the container saved energy for the racers opposed to pedaling up the ramp and also gave them more speed heading into the final rhythm section of the course.
Henderson’s entry into the IHBC came as a last-minute move, as she initially planned to compete at a race in Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend.
“There was a BMX race in Nashville, but tickets were so expensive, and I was at a race last weekend in Oklahoma City and was hanging out with Collin Hudson and he mentioned this race,” Henderson said. “I was off work, so I was like, ‘All right, I guess I’m going to drive out.’ I’ve been having so much fun, so it was worth the drive.”
In the mountain bike category, Ben Bennett, a student at Fort Lewis College originally from Santa Ana, California, repeated as champion after he held off Steven Cooper it the final.
“It’s one of the best events. It’s super fun to be able to come and ride,” Bennett said. “I’m really stoked to win again, but mostly about having such a good time.”
The course for this year’s event was moved from Main Avenue to down the hill on East Ninth Street, across Main with the big jump over the storage container, then finished on West Ninth. The changes allowed for bigger features and more speed for the racers.
Overall, the consensus from the competitors was that the course was much more difficult than the inaugural race held in 2017.
“It was way harder to ride this year,” Hudson said. “It was four seconds longer, so there was more time to make up, and actually the course was much more difficult. It was more technical for the riders – bigger rollers, bigger jumps. And it makes for more fun and closer racing.”
Bennett said moving the course to a downhill location, which led to more speed, gave the riders another challenge to conquer during the race.
“Compared to last year, it was a lot more technical, and it was a lot faster because it was going downhill opposed to last year when it was flat along Main,” Bennett said. “The faster you go, the harder it is to lace up all the rollers properly, so it was a lot more technical. It was more difficult, but it was really fun.”
The changes also gave the organizers of the race a bigger challenge, as they worked up until their deadline to have the course ready for the event.
With the build taking longer than he initially hoped for, Jordan Rupe, one of the key organizers for the event, said the course wasn’t running at the condition he had hoped for.
“It was a pretty big undertaking to set up this course – we didn’t know what to expect and we were really down to the wire finishing up after 8 (a.m.),” Rupe said. “The course had its challenges. Some of it was pretty wet and took all day to dry out. At the end, the last couple of rounds the course was finally running like I intended it to. That was frustrating, but it all turned out and worked out.
“Overall, it turned out really cool. It was a great event and a great show, which is our goal. We put on a show. ... We’re looking forward already to doing it next year.”
Regardless, the entire day was a success for Rupe, the IHBC and the competitors, who gave the competition rave reviews. One racer, Wyatt Smith, stopped at the timer’s tent at the finish line to thank the workers and praised the course. Henderson said she’d have to see what her schedule for next year is like but would like to make a return to defend her title, while Bennett and Hudson said there’s no doubt they’ll be back to try for a three-peat.
“I’ll definitely be back next year,” Bennett said. “I would expect more fast people to show up next year. It’ll be harder, but it’ll be fun.”