Ruth Holcomb is young, but she competes with the skill of a veteran and the speed of riders in their prime.
The 16-year-old from Durango blew past the professional women’s mountain bike field Sunday during the 48th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to win in her first year competing in the pro field. Holcomb completed a lightning-shortened, two-lap race in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 8 seconds to finish ahead of 36-year-old Hannah Bingham of Steamboat Springs by 45 seconds.
“It means a lot,” Holcomb said. “I haven’t been able to race this race for two years because of broken arms. I’m excited to come in and show my town that I can race bikes.”
Holcomb had placed eighth in Saturday’s pro women’s road race from Durango to Silverton to get into contention for the Queen of the Mountain omnium title. But it was Bingham’s second-place finish in the mountain bike race Sunday backing up her fifth-place finish in the road race that gave her 45 omnium points to edge Holcomb by two points to be crowned Queen of the Mountain. Durango’s Jennifer Gersbach, who was seventh in the road race and fourth in the mountain bike race, was third on the Queen of the Mountain podium.
“My legs were a little tired, but, surprisingly, it was OK,” Bingham said. “Saturday was kind of a nice warmup.
“This race is so much fun. I have done the road and mountain bike now for a fourth year. They recently started doing this omnium for that, and it’s sweet. That’s right up my alley, so I wanted to go for that.”
Durango’s Katja Freeburn, who won the pro women’s mountain bike race a year ago, placed third in 1:04:16. Freeburn went off the front of the field early, and Holcomb moved her way up to work with her fellow Durangoan and Bear Development Team rider.
“I’m stoked on my finish,” Freeburn said. “Ruth is a really fast climber, and I know how to push it on the flats. We were working together to get out in front.”
Going up the big climb on the second lap, Holcomb looked back and saw Freeburn was no longer with her. She rode solo to the finish the rest of the way.
Freeburn had gone down on the opening lap and didn’t see that her front thru-axle had come loose. When her brake started making a noise on the second lap, she looked down and saw the mechanical issue. That was all Bingham needed to secure second place.
“It happens, it’s racing,” Freeburn said. “That’s never happened to me before and didn’t think that it could start coming out like that.”
Trish Thomas of Durango was sixth in 1:06:04. Durango’s Ellen Campbell, another Bear Development Team rider, was seventh in 1:06:29.
FLC’s Tristen Musselman was eighth in 1:07:07, and Durango’s Liz Carrington was ninth in 1:07:31. Durango’s Sarah Warren rounded out the top 10 for Durango in 1:08:27.
Holcomb was unaware that the race would be shortened to two laps from the scheduled three until the downhill back into downtown Durango, as Durango DEVO coach Chad Cheeney yelled the news to her. At the finish line, Holcomb was greeted by her family, Cheeney and celebrated by Bingham and Freeburn.
“The rocks were a little slippery, but everything else was sweet,” Holcomb said of the course conditions. “It went from really dusty to kind of tacky, and the corners were amazing, so it made it really fun out there.”
Only 16, Holcomb couldn’t indulge in the beer hand-ups fans inside Steamworks Brewing Co. offer up to the cyclists during the race. It was the first time Holcomb competed in a category in which riders climb up a ramp into the back of Steamworks, ride through the back bar patio, inside to the main bar and out the front window with hundreds of fans cheering the entire way.
“It was so cool,” she said. “Everyone is screaming. It made me smile while I was kind of nervous. The ramp was a little hard, and then it gets so dark inside. You have to figure out how to take your glasses off, but it was really fun.”
Freeburn and Holcomb will continue a busy summer racing schedule in the coming months with the leadup to the USA Cycling Mountain Bike National Championships in July in Winter Park.
“Ruth is so amazing,” Freeburn said. “She’s such a strong rider and definitely going places.”