Perhaps the only racer who doesn’t think Ned Overend will win Saturday’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic professional men’s road race from Durango to Silverton is Overend himself.
“I’m not that wound up about it, you know? I’ve done some training, but it was a tough time to train,” Overend said. “I was in South America for a couple of weeks, northern California a few weeks after that. I’ve been back here for a few days, but the weather hasn’t been very good, especially in the high country. But that’s interesting.”
Overend has competed in every IHBC road race since 1982. He claimed the first of his men’s record five titles in 1983 and the last in 2011, and he is always in the top 10 on the 47-mile effort that features more than 5,000 feet of climbing with the summit climbs of Coal Bank and Molas passes, each greater than 10,000 feet above sea level.
With several national championships and the 1990 world championship of mountain biking under his belt, Overend is one of the pioneers of the Durango mountain bike scene and has made sure to register for the hometown race every year.
“I always plan on making my way up there,” he said. “If you’re here and in town, it’s something you should do.”
Overend doesn’t simply make his way to Silverton. He sets the pace. When riders half or even a third of his age are going a bit too slow through the Animas Valley for his liking, Overend will take to the front. He never is content to sit in the middle of the pro group and draft the whole way, as he takes as many turns on the front of the group as any other rider.
With many of the top IHBC racers of recent years not competing in the 48th edition of the famed bike ride, many have Overend circled as their favorite this Saturday.
“It could be another victory for Ned,” said Durango’s Todd Wells, a three-time mountain bike Olympian and longtime Specialized Racing partner of Overend who won’t race this year as he serves as assistant race director. “He just chucks ’em up. Down in South America, he kind of missed on the altitude training, but I know he got good training in.”
Durango’s Benjamin Sonntag has ridden in the pro peloton alongside Overend for years. If this isn’t Sonntag’s year to win his first, he knows it could be Overend’s time to tie women’s professional Mara Abbott’s record of six titles.
“Ned is always up there,” Sonntag said. “We all know what he can do in high-altitude climbing. It would be pretty stupid to count him out. We ask every year, ‘When will he slow down?’ But I don’t think we should ever count him out.”
Durango’s Stephan Davoust has had a breakthrough year on the professional mountain bike scene. But he won’t compete in this weekend’s road race, nor will 2016 IHBC champion and mountain bike star Payson McElveen. Those two Durango riders know Overend has a lot to show the other younger racers who are competing and that he still has plenty left in his tank. He didn’t get the nickname “The Lung” for nothing.
“Ned Overend, that’s the smart guy to always put your money on,” Davoust said. “He knows those climbs better than anyone, and he’s so smart. He’s unbelievably strong on a road bike.”