The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has served as the biggest cycling event in Durango for the better part of its 47 years of existence. This year, though, it will signal the beginning of a season-long party.
Purgatory Resort will put itself back on the competitive mountain biking map, and Durango will host thousands of high school mountain bikers and their families for the state championships – and that is only a sample of what is in store.
“Without a doubt, this will be the biggest summer of cycling events in Durango in the 11 years I’ve been doing this, and even longer than that,” said IHBC race director Gaige Sippy. “When you look at the full menu from (IHBC) to high school championships in late October, I’m not sure if it might not be the most events ever in Durango during the cycling season.”
Sippy and the Iron Horse have been instrumental in helping Durango deliver a full slate of high-end cycling events. Purgatory Resort’s boost has come from Hogan Koesis, who last August was named mountain bike director for Mountain Capital Partners, which operates Arizona Snowbowl, New Mexico’s Pajarito Mountain and Sipapu Ski & Summer Resort, as well as Hesperus Ski Area and Purgatory.
Koesis led the boom at New Mexico’s Angel Fire Bike Park and helped to make it a major destination for mountain bike racers and riders.
“We’re excited to take Purgatory to the next level,” Koesis said. “Purgatory is the flagship mountain of the collective. With the singletrack already in Durango, adding a bike park is a no-brainer. I think it will be like Crested Butte in the next five years with its ability to increase mountain bike tourism and getting a lot more mountain bikers in general flocking to the area. We can see what we saw at Angel Fire. We had 14,000 visits to Angel Fire out in the middle of nowhere. We should be able to do 20-30,000 at Purg. It will double business in Durango.”
The loaded schedule of events has the Durango cycling community buzzing, and the long-term benefits of a successful season are undeniable.
“For a long time, we just had the Iron Horse, and people get excited for that,” said three-time mountain bike Olympian and longtime Durangoan Todd Wells. “Then they either put their bike away or do other things, but there aren’t any events to target in town. This year, cyclists are happy because there are so many great events. It gives people something to get excited for all season like the Iron Horse does in the spring.”
Here’s a closer look at the big events scheduled for the Durango area in 2018:
Purgatory’s revengeMany of the top mountain bikers from across North America will descend on Purgatory Resort for the final stop of the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross-Country Tour (Pro XCT) to be held Aug. 31-Sept. 2. It is an International Cycling Union (UCI) Category 2 points race, the first UCI race to be held at Purgatory since the 2001 World Cup races for cross-country and downhill. The event will also have categories open to non-UCI-elite riders.
Purgatory became famous in 1990 when it hosted the first-ever UCI World Mountain Bike Championships. But the mountain with a base elevation of nearly 8,800 feet has been mostly dormant in the cycling world since. It has hosted several small local races, and the upper parking lot serves as the finish line for the Quarter Horse road race during IHBC weekend, but nothing has compared to what Purgatory will see in late summer this year.
“It seems like it’s been controversial over the years,” Koesis said. “Prior management didn’t want anything to do with mountain biking. They were interested in making it a lodge experience, selling real estate. Now that it’s been turned over to offer mountain biking, it’s going to be awesome in Durango at large.”
Koesis has race director status and connections with USA Cycling and UCI. His involvement made it simple for Purgatory to get a big event, and many of Durango’s top professionals have raved about Koesis and his ability to bring back a big race.
“I didn’t even hear that there was going to be a UCI race in Durango until I was looking at the schedule and saw Purgatory, and I was beyond myself with excitement,” said Durango’s Christopher Blevins, the under-23 cross-country mountain bike and cyclocross national champion. “I’ve heard the plan is we may try to build it even more, potentially get a World Cup in the future. It makes perfect sense. If Durango can develop a great bike park, it will be a huge success for the town. Mountain biking is the pedigree of Durango, and it should be maintained as that. We should have big events, whether it is UCI mountain biking or even with BMX having state championships at some point. The potential for high-end events can be backed up by the strong community events we have as well.”
Durango and Purgatory will host the third stop of the SCOTT Enduro Cup on July 14-15. With five stops in the series, the SCOTT Enduro Cup began May 5 in Moab, Utah, and will continue June 8-10 in Angel Fire before it lands in Durango. It will continue July 28 at Powderhorn and conclude Aug. 25-26 in Park City, Utah.
The Rocky Mountain Race Series will stop Aug. 17-19 at Purgatory with cross-country, downhill, short-track and slalom races.
“Durango is bringing itself back as far as a racing scene,” said Olympian Howard Grotts, a 25-year-old native of Durango. “To have all those races in the summer, it will be pretty exciting.”
Colorado State ChampionshipsThe biggest cycling weekend of the year will come Oct. 20-21 when the Colorado Cycling League State Championships will be held in Durango, part of the ever-growing National Interscholastic Cycling Association.
Sippy was key in getting the championships to Durango.
More than 1,000 riders from 67 teams and 147 high schools participated in regular-season races last year. Of those, only 30 or 40 athletes were from the Durango area.
“Of all the events, taking Iron Horse out of it, the high school state championships will be the biggest in terms of people,” Sippy said. “When you get all the kids, parents, families here to Durango, it’s a big deal.”
Colorado Cycling League Executive Director Kate Rau, who will participate in the IHBC this weekend, was impressed by the commitment of the Durango community as a whole when it came to luring the championship weekend away from Eagle.
“I’ve been looking for Western Slope venues for quite some time,” Rau told The Durango Herald after the city was awarded hosting rights. “Durango is a perfect cycling destination. The town put together a proposal that was very supportive of our event.”
Fall finaleWith new organizer Rick O’Block, the Durango Fall Blaze Bicycle Tour is set to return Sept. 9 for the first time in three years. The benefit event for the FLC cycling program’s scholarship fund will feature road rides of 37, 60 and 100 miles with the hopes of having 500 cyclists participate. FLC alumni and pros such as Grotts and two-time marathon mountain bike national champion Payson McElveen have also gotten behind the event.
On Sept. 15, Todd Wells’ Durango Dirt Fondo will give mountain bikers 8-, 20- and 40-mile ride options. For the non-professionals who ride in the IHBC Citizen’s Tour and other events, the Blaze and fondo offer a reason to continue to train all season.
“I am happy the Iron Horse is still part of all of this and is still viable,” Sippy said. “We’re helping any way we can with the Fall Blaze, the fondo, anything Hogan needs at Purgatory we will provide, and same with the state championships. We’ve been around the longest, but it is our goal to strengthen all of those with whatever we can do. The 50th iron Horse is right around the corner, and we’re already making plans for all that, too. I think you’re going to see things go on here in the next three to five years that will put Durango at the forefront of all things cycling.”