SILVERTON Not that anyone around these parts is surprised by anything Ned Overend does on a bicycle anymore, but it had been 19 long years since the man known as Deadly Nedly took home a road race title at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
But at 55 years old and in the 40th installment of the race, the Durango cycling legend proved one thing to the pro mens field and any potential doubters.
Hes still got it. And then some.
Overend made his move on Coal Bank Pass, building a sizeable lead and holding off Greg Krause, Drew Miller and Howard Grotts on Molas Pass in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 54 seconds to win his record fifth Iron Horse Classic Road Race title Saturday, maintaining his lead over four-time womens champion Mara Abbott in the process.
As other riders began to struggle in both major climbs, Overend said he just felt better and better.
(Its been) too long. ... Howard made the move, and I went with him and hung on as long as I could. ... I felt stronger and stronger on Molas, Overend said.
It was Overends first Iron Horse win since 1992, setting the record for the longest gap between road race victories and breaking a mark held by Michael Carter, who had 17 years between victories.
Hes only the second rider older than 40 to win the race, Carter being the other, and is the only one older than 50 to take the crown. Overend also won in 1983, 1986 and 1987.
The big move of the race came on Coal Bank Pass. Overend and Grotts left the lead peloton as the climb began, with Grotts looking like he might drop Overend halfway up, building a 10-second lead.
But Overend, the ultimate crafty veteran, chased down the former Durango DEVO standout near the summit and put some distance between the 19-year-old Cat 2/3 rider on the descent. He maintained the lead during the climb up Molas Pass, and the rest is history.
I used some experience to catch him on the descent and go by him, said Overend, the defending singlespeed national champion. Those 30 years came in handy for that. ... I was going downhill faster and through those corners faster. Ive probably done it a couple hundred more times than him.
Grotts, who easily won his category in 2:20:12, said riding at the front with Overend in his first IHBC race after jumping from the junior category was almost surreal.
Hes always going to be fast and strong. Its fun to ride with him. ... I really didnt know what to think ... It was good coming over the top of (Coal Bank) and hearing that we had a 30-second gap, the-soon-to-be Fort Lewis College cyclist said. Grotts just finished his collegiate season at Colorado School of Mines.
Overend said he enjoyed seeing the young Durango native make a serious run at the title, adding that Grotts time will come.
Youngest kid and the oldest kid in the pack out there together. Couldve been a story either way, huh? he said.
Krause, who alongside Miller finished in 2:20:08, improved his finish for the second consecutive year.
The defending omnium winner was fourth in 2009 and third a year ago before slipping past Grotts on the final straightaway to snare second place.
Miller, who hails from Flagstaff, Ariz., was credited with the same time and a third-place finish.
I went fourth two years ago, third last year, and this year second. So Ned better watch out next year, Krause said with a grin.
As the race entered Shalona Hill early, Leroy Popowski of Colorado Springs pulled away from a four-man group that had, at that early stage, all but left the main pack in the dust.
However, Popowski broke a bottom bracket and had to drop out of the race. Durangos Troy Wells and Grant Berry took the lead from there, but they were swallowed by the peloton entering Coal Bank, setting the stage for Overend.
With a bit of a tailwind exiting Molas Pass, Krause, of Littleton, said he thought there may be a chance to reel in Overend, but the local legend slammed the door down the stretch.
To see him win, its pretty special. ... We had a little tailwind on Molas, and he was just out of the saddle grinding away, and we werent making up any ground on him, he said.
Chris Carr came across in fifth overall in 2:21:38. Nathan King was sixth, and the Durango-resident triumvirate of Rolando Gonzalez, Ben Sonntag and Rotem Ishay finished seventh, eighth and ninth, respectively.
Overend now has a fifth title to go with five seconds and five thirds.
And to hear him tell it, he let more than a few IHBCs slip through his fingers.
One thing I realized is Ive got too many second and third places in this race, you know? the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Famer said. Great cyclists will convert more of those into wins.
But the 40th edition of Colorados most historic race was one he wouldnt let slip away an all-too-fitting start to one of Durangos biggest cycling celebrations.