Sarah Sturm made a point to return to the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic professional women’s road race in 2019 after the IHBC committee answered a rallying cry from the cycling community.
The mission was to get the IHBC to give the professional women the equal $3,000 prize purse as the pro men. After an effort led by pro cyclist Emily Schaldach, a Durango native who now calls Boulder home, and fellow Durangoan Kaylee Blevins that was backed up by Sturm and a large chunk of the Durango cycling community, with men and women all signing a letter, this year’s women’s purse was increased from $2,550 to match the men at $3,000.
Sturm, who placed second at last year’s IHBC pro women’s road race behind winner Aimee Vasse of Longmont and one spot ahead of two-time IHBC women’s champion Mindy Caruso of Albuquerque, is hoping for a fast finish Saturday so she came make it to a wedding in Albuquerque later that day.
“The Iron Horse was my first-ever bike race,” Sturm said. “It’s just really special to race it now as a more competitive rider. It’s a good testament that if you just stick with something how much better you can get. The first time I raced it, I definitely remember walking up Shalona Hill in my road shoes. It can’t get worse than that.”
Sturm has had a banner year since taking second at the IHBC women’s road race a year ago, when she conquered the 47 miles with more than 5,000 feet of climbing in 2 hours, 44 minutes, 54.9 seconds. That was 11 seconds behind Vasse’s winning time. In December, she won the singlespeed cyclocross national championship. This year, she won a pro criterium at the Sea Otter Classic, and just this month had a big win at the 133-mile Belgian Waffle Ride in southern California. That race features a bit of everything from road, dirt, gravel and some big climbs.
Last year, Sturm was second on a borrowed bike. This year, she will have her own Specialized road bike ready to go, though she may still stick to her mountain bike shoes she wore a year ago.
“Full-on road bike for me this year,” she said. “Maybe even road shoes, but I still don’t know about them.”
Some of Sturm’s stiffest competition could come from Schaldach and the athletes she coaches at Fort Lewis College. A Skyhawks alumna, herself, Sturm has been a road coach for FLC the past few years. She will see Tristen Musselman and Kira Payer, two of the top FLC women’s riders, in the field this Saturday.
“They’re riding super strong,” Sturm said. “I hope they don’t take it too hard on me.”
IHBC assistant race director Todd Wells called the women’s field as open as the men’s. Elite junior rider Maddie Jo Robbins is in Canada once again this year for the Canadian Cup races. It’s possible Caruso and Vasse could register late Friday and get back into the mix, though. That could create more competition for those with FLC ties.
“It should be exciting because they don’t have that favorite, either,” Wells said. “It’s going to be similar to the men’s race where whoever happens to have a good day that day is gonna be able to take it.”
FLC’s Katja Freeburn, who is from Durango, won last year’s pro women’s mountain bike race the Sunday of IHBC weekend. She will be a strong Queen of the Mountain contender if she can put together top results in the road race Saturday and mountain bike race Sunday to take the overall title. Freeburn’s fellow Bear Development Team rider Ellen Campbell expects Freeburn to contend in both, while Campbell, also of Durango, will only compete in the mountain bike race.
“The Iron Horse is a really special event,” Campbell said. “Being able to have my friends and family out watching and cheering is really special and motivating. It makes it that much more special to go ride hard.”
Another Bear Development Team rider to watch all weekend is Ruth Holcomb. Though still an under-16-age racer, Holcomb has been hammering Coal Bank and Molas Passes and is a force on her mountain bike, too. Fellow high school rider Lauren Aggeler also will compete in both races this weekend, and the two young guns could capture the eye of Durango fans.
“Ruth is incredible,” Wells said. “She’s such a great athlete. She races Nordic up there and is so acclimated to the altitude.”
Holcomb hasn’t been able to race on IHBC weekend the last couple of years because of injuries, and she said she is eager to show her improvement to the hometown fans.
[image;4]“This year, I’m super excited,” she said. “I don’t have much expectation for the road race, but I want to be up there and stick with the lead group, for sure. (Sturm) is going to be up there, and she’s been my coach since I was little, so it’s cool to jump in with them and see where I stack up.”
Campbell, who has been part of the back-to-back collegiate national champion FLC mountain bike teams, has raced the IHBC since she was Holcomb’s age and is eager to watch the next wave of speedy Durango girls jump into the professional fields.
“Especially for a local race like this, it has just the right amount of pressure to kind of motivate them,” Campbell said. “Being able to race with older women and the women they’ve looked up to, it’s really special and gives them extra motivation for the race. It’s a good test to compare and see where they are. Most of these girls now are even faster than I am and faster than pros.”
While Queen of the Mountain could come down to Freeburn and Holcomb, everyone is eager to see how Saturday’s road race plays out during the climbs.
“I just enjoy the climbing now,” Sturm said. “It’s a day where we get to go climb up mountains on a closed road. It’s pretty cool.”