The 2017 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic women’s Coca-Cola Road Race is seemingly wide open for the taking.
Last year, U.S. Olympian Mara Abbott won her record sixth Iron Horse title with a time of 2 hours, 48 minutes, 44 seconds on the 47-mile course up U.S. Highway 550 from Durango to Silverton. It was the second year in a row the 2016 Olympian won the event.
However, the Boulder rider retired in September after finishing fourth at the 2016 Rio Olympics road race and, in all likelihood, won’t race this year.
“Mara was so dominant here, and, if she doesn’t show up at the last minute, it will open the door for others to step into the spotlight,” Iron Horse Bicycle Classic Race Director Gaige Sippy said. “It’s hard to predict because so many riders sign up late. If Mara doesn’t show up, I think Mindy Caruso is probably the favorite.”
Caruso ended Abbott’s four-year win streak by winning the 2012 women’s road race. The 2011 USA Cycling Master Road National 35-39 time trial winner finished second behind Abbott in 2016. Albuquerque’s Caruso, 45, finished last year’s race in 2:53.22, which was three minutes better than everyone except Abbott. She found the podium three times in 2016, as she won the time trial and took third in the circuit race.
“It’s always an exciting time of year for me,” Caruso said. “I think the culture surrounding the race is so much fun. We have a nice turnout of community participation from New Mexico, and we always get really excited to go up to Durango no matter what races we’re in.”
Caruso has been around long enough to know that riders have no idea what to expect until they line up Saturday morning.
“Of course I’d love to win, but there’s always strong riders in this race,” she said. “You might not know much about them, and that makes for kind of a surprise. Every year there’s someone that kind of comes out of nowhere.”
Last year, the big surprise was Durango native Emily Jordan. The 2016 IHBC road race was Jordan’s first professional event, and the 2010 Durango High School graduate worked her way onto the podium after posting a third-place time of 2:56.04.
“Honestly, part of the excitement for me signing up last year was having the chance to line up against Mara Abbott,” Jordan said. “She will be missed even though most of us won’t miss seeing her way ahead of us on the passes.”
The 2015 Citizens Tour was Jordan’s first race. The now 24-year-old liked it so much she joined a racing team in Denver. Though Jordan grew up in town, not many people realized she had taken up cycling until she showed up in the newspaper on the podium next to a legendary figure in Abbott.
“It was fun discovering how surprised everyone was when they realized it was me,” she said. “Nobody in Durango really knew I was cycling, so that was a nice way to announce it to everyone in town. I’ve been working my butt off since last year. I entered some UCI stage races and started putting myself up against the best riders in the country, so I think I’m ready.”
Jordan isn’t the only local pro in the women’s field. Fans might also recognize former Fort Lewis College rider Ellen Campbell, one of a few signed up for the road race/mountain bike Queen of the Mountain competition. Animas High School’s Camryn Sippy will also add more local flare and youthfulness to the road race.
Though two of last year’s top three finishers will try to make the top of the podium this year, the 2017 women’s field is slim. Only 15 riders have signed up for a road race field that has a maximum capacity set at 75. However, with an overall purse of $2,550 distributed to 10 riders and a history of late entries, the field is expected to grow by Saturday morning. Late registration will take place from 3 to 7 p.m. Friday at Buckley Park.
“For decades now this thing has been so unpredictable,” Gaige Sippy said. “The only guarantee is that we’ll have a number of additions by Saturday morning. Last year we had 25 or 30, and a lot of them were women.”
The women’s road race is scheduled to start Saturday at 7:31 a.m. at Durango High School.