If Sunday was a trial run for BMX to have a permanent place at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, the Adventure Pro Straight Rhythm head-to-head races passed with flying colors.
Fans jammed the west side of downtown Durango’s Main Street between 8th and 9th Avenue – where BMX shared the stage with the mountain bike races – and rang their bells until the first champions were crowned in the IHBC’s inaugural event.
Sixteen professional men, eight mountain bikers and eight women posted qualifying times for bracket seeding before racing opponents head-to-head down a block-long track in the middle of town. Colorado Mesa University cyclist and five-time world BMX champion Collin Hudson beat Albuquerque professional rider Tomas Fernandez in both finals runs to take a spot on the top of the men’s professional podium. Ben Bennett won the mountain bike bracket after defeating Zach Graveson in the final, and Durango’s Shayla Blackmore beat Dominique Smith to win the women’s competition.
“I was super impressed with how well run this event was,” said Hudson, who was also the 2008 USA Cycling junior national mountain bike champion. “This is a total one-off event and there’s really nothing like it for us. I think it’s more of a pure BMX format. When you’re racing on an eight-man start, a lot of people get cut off right away and that’s it for them. Sometimes the fastest guy doesn’t win, but, here it’s just you and another rider, and if you’re faster you win.”
Part of the fun for Hudson was blowing away the competition. He didn’t lose a matchup all day and felt like he’d be meeting a familiar foe in Fernandez for all the marbles.
“Tomas and I see a lot of each other,” he said. “We see each other on the national scene. I had an OK seeding run and just knew I had to put it down in the final. I’m just glad it worked down for me.”
Fernandez posted the top qualifying time and breezed through the opening three rounds before taking the stage for the finals to go head-to-head with a familiar face in Hudson. However, it wasn’t his day this time.
“Hats off to Collin Hudson,” Fernandez said. “That dude is on the top of his game in a class of his own for sure.”
Even in defeat, Fernandez was as happy as any rider on Main Street because his favorite sport came out with the big win. Before the event, IHBC Director Gaige Sippy said this would be a ‘test’ for BMX in town. If that was the case, the main event’s runner-up is giving it an A.
“This is an amazing race, man, it totally blew away and surpassed all my expectations” said Fernandez, who coaches and rides at Albuquerque’s legendary Duke City BMX complex. “At the beginning of the week, honestly, I wasn’t quite sure how it would go down. But, dude, hats off to Durango, Jordan (Rupe) and all the crew that’s helping. The intensity and atmosphere was off the charts and I hope we can do this again next year.”
The mountain bike winner had similar thoughts. Bennett was dominant as the first IHBC mountain bike straight rhythm champion. The Durangoan won every matchup en route to the title.
“I just wanted to stay smooth through the finish,” he said. “If you got going too fast it got kind of chattery and easy to start hitting the tops of the rollers. I just stayed sharp and slowed down at times to make sure I got over everything smooth. I can’t wait for next year.”
Local rider Brennan Buiso took fourth and FLC’s Rebeccah Sheppard finished third in their respective classes, but where they placed was the last of the concern for Sheppard.
“Having this kind of event for us here in downtown Durango just gets me so pumped up and excited to race,” Sheppard said before her semifinal run. “The track is pretty dialed for being constructed overnight. Coming from BMX, things are more serious sometimes, but to see all these people out here in town having a blast like this just makes the whole thing an incredible and unique experience.”