The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has changed a lot over the course of 45 years. The 46th year will be no exception.
Race organizers continue to find ways to be more inclusive and present as exciting of an event as possible for both participants and spectators.
The format of years past has changed for the 2017 event held May 26-28. The Monday time trial is gone, and so is the Sunday downtown circuit race. Replacing those events are a downtown BMX event and a 54-mile gravel ride.
“Call this a test for BMX downtown,” IHBC race director Gaige Sippy said. “Our sport is very broad. Cycling evolves and morphs from decade to decade. We’re starting to see people decline in time trials. Folks want off the main drag, and they’re getting on gravel. The industry has created bikes for it, so let’s give it a shot.”
Few cyclists stuck around for the Monday time trial event to contest the overall road omnium championship. So, Sippy scrapped the time trial and came up with a few new events for an action-packed Sunday in Durango.
The overall championship will now include the famed mountain bike race in downtown Durango. Athletes who compete in Saturday’s marquee 47-mile road race from Durango to Silverton and participate in the same category for the Sunday mountain bike race will contend for the King or Queen of the Mountain prizes. Professional men and women can earn an extra payout if they finish in the top five in the standings after both events. All other categories will pay out to the top three riders.
“It’s proving to be a good change,” Sippy said. “Last year, the road omnium only had 75 people by the time the weekend hit. We already have 70 now signed up for the mountain bike and road race to contend for that omnium. We’ll have plenty more by race weekend.”
‘They get to ride through a bar’The mountain bike race, which is by far the most successful of the Sunday events thanks to its famed trip through Steamworks Brewing Company, will change course this year. Instead of riders flying in through the front window of Steamworks, zipping through the bar and descending a steep ramp out the back, the ride will run in reverse. Bikers will climb a more-gradual grade of a ramp into the back of Steamworks, through the bar and out the front window. The course as a whole will run directionally opposite of what it has since 2011. Bikers will climb Chapman Hill and descend Lions Den and the nature trail.
“Climbing into Steamworks will give you a longer duration at the bar and give people more time to cheer for you as you go up slower than you normally would going down,” Sippy said. “Overall, more than anything, it’s good to change it up a bit and have a different feel.”
Sippy said Fort Lewis College cycling director Dave Hagen had encouraged him for years to have the mountain bikers go up a ramp into Steamworks. The change also will provide an opportunity to have more classifications of bicyclists ride through the bar. In previous years, only the professional and open division riders rode through the bar, because of safety concerns over the steep ramp exiting the building.
Even then, one rider lost a couple of teeth last year in a crash because of the rate of speed and difficulty adjusting to the drastic change of lighting.
“Going up is going to be good, a bit slower, but that’s a good area for the crowd,” said three-time Olympian and Durango mountain biking star Todd Wells, last year’s race winner. “It will be nice to share that with the crowd instead of zipping by in two seconds. It’s the coolest feature of the Iron Horse, so it’s cool that they’ll switch it up a bit.”
This year, there will be three waves of mountain bike racers, and the top two will get to partake in the Steamworks excitement.
“When I tell people about the Iron Horse, that’s the first thing I tell them is that they get to ride through a bar,” Wells said. “Then they go and they don’t even get to ride through it. It’s so unique, and the word will spread fast. Over the next couple of years, I bet we see even a bigger presence in the mountain bike race because people will want to come. If they’re on the fence, it will help get them to Durango.”
In addition, there will also be a beer garden this year outside The Irish Embassy Pub, and Sippy said there will be more features set up outside that area for racers to impress the crowd.
‘More exciting for people to watch’A year ago, Durango BMX delivered the Iron BMX event at the track at Cundiff Park the Friday before the IHBC road race. The event will return for a second year, but an even bigger BMX showcase will take over downtown on Sunday of IHBC weekend.
The IHBC has partnered with Jordan Rupe and Durango BMX to introduce an event that will gain the attention of spectators. They’ll build a straight rhythm BMX dirt track in downtown Durango. Think motocross on pedal powered bikes.
The event is invite only. That’s by design, because Sippy wants it to be a competitive event that will capture an audience.
“We’re recruiting riders from around the region to come,” Sippy said. “It won’t look good unless we have great riders. It’s not for the novice or intermediate. It’s not because the course will be overly difficult, but it will look better and be more exciting for the people to watch.”
The event takes the place of the criterium road race through downtown. While that event gained strong participation from the pros and all categories, it wasn’t the most spectator friendly, with racers zipping through the neighborhood allowing fans to catch only brief glimpses of the action.
The IHBC will pair with local excavation company AJ Construction to build the BMX track. It is the same company that built the flow trail at Purgatory Resort and has taken on delicate projects such as the fish habitat on the upper Hermosa Creek drainage. With Rupe designing the track and experienced builder Grady James in the mix, Sippy says they’ll build a strong product despite the monumental undertaking.
“We’re going to start it at night and hopefully have about eight hours,” James said. “The time constraint and doing it under the lights is kind of unique. We do some crazy stuff at AJ Construction, so the build itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary for us.
“We’re excited. It’s not very often you can display heavy equipment in the middle of downtown Durango. A lot of the work we do specializes around doing heavy equipment operating in sensitive areas, whether we’re on Second Avenue or up in a national forest. We take pride in the precision work we do.”
‘It’s time to try it out, right?’Gravel rides have sky-rocketed in popularity in recent years. For road bikers looking for a second event on IHBC weekend, this year’s gravel ride will be the ticket to more miles and more great views.
“We have such great country gravel roads, so it’s time to try one out, right?” Sippy said.
The IHBC floated the idea to the public through open registration and had hoped to get 100 riders signed up by race day. As of Wednesday, 106 cyclists had registered. Sippy expects as many as 130 by the weekend of the race.
Sippy is in the final stages of finalizing the route, but said it will start on Main Avenue, go up Florida Road and end in the southeastern portion of the county on County Road 172 toward Texas Creek. It’s a diverse 54-mile ride featuring sections of farm land and rolling prairie as well as tall pines and mountain views. It will gain 3,700 feet of elevation.
‘There’s something for everyone’Along with Saturday’s Citizens Tour ride to Silverton, the Quarter Horse race to Purgatory Resort and Sunday’s family-friendly events such as the Cruiser Crit and kids race, the IHBC is adding one more event to promote inclusion.
In partnership with the Davis Phinney Foundation for Parkinson’s disease, there will be a Quarter Horse event called the “Parkinson’s Peloton” for pedal-assist bikes. Sippy said he will call it a success if 20 riders sign up for the event in its first year.
“There’s a growing popularity of pedal-assist bikes,” Sippy said. “We see an opportunity for a segment of the population without the ability to ride a regular bicycle, but pedal-assist might give them the opportunity. We’re making sure we’re keeping one eye forward to changes in cycling.
“What’s kept this even going all these years is not catering to one segment but making sure there’s something for everyone.”