Durango’s mountain bikers were stuck home for much of the summer. No races on the schedule, only socially-distanced training rides with sparse friends and family during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In stepped young Alex Green. Suddenly, there were cross-country mountain bike races in Durango set for September. He called it the AG Epic Race Series.
“I like racing my bike, and I wanted to race. I started a series just so I could race it,” Green said. “I wanted to do it for Durango locals, make them the best races I could. I had a good bit of motivation to make fun courses and let some good people go out and have fun.”
The 17-year-old from Birmingham, Alabama, moved to Durango after graduating high school in only three years. He had visited in 2015 while on his way to compete at the mountain bike national championships in California. He learned of Fort Lewis College and its illustrious cycling program that has 24 national championships across all disciplines.
“Pretty much after that day, I never toured another school. I knew I wanted to go there and race my bike,” Green said.
At only 17, Green moved to Durango and is working on gaining legal emancipation and a tuition break to attend FLC.
Back home in Alabama, Green and his coach, talented 23-year-old mountain biker Jerry Dufour, had started more than a dozen races in Birmingham the previous winter. So, Green had some experience.
“I wanted to start some races, and I had an idea of how to do it,” Green said. “I just went and talked to all the right people. It took a lot of work, but I had nothing better to do after I moved out here. I was sitting in my apartment one night, asked my roommates for help and the next morning started organizing, getting permits and doing Zoom calls.”
Green filled out more than 100 forms and spent more than 200 hours to organize the series. He had the help of roommates Filip Matyjaszczck and Harris Pigford.
To get the permits to close down portions of trails at Horse Gulch and Twin Buttes took some schmoozing.
“Nobody wants to give out permits right now during coronavirus,” he said. “I had to have a coronavirus plan. It was a long process. I eventually got the final permit about 14 hours out from the start of the first race. Good timing.”
Not only did Green get permission from Durango and San Juan Basin Public Health, he even got the races accredited by USA Cycling.
The hard work impressed even the most veteran race organizers in Durango, including FLC cycling director Dave Hagen and Durango Devo co-founder and FLC mountain bike coach Chad Cheeney.
“Hagen and I had to do a triple take. ‘What? You got USAC permits? And city permits?’ That takes a lot of time and effort,” Cheeney said. “You have to jump through so many hoops to do anything cool in this town. For a young guy like that, comes here from Alabama where they’re itching to do cool community things, it was impressive.”
The first race was held at Twin Buttes. Winners included FLC freshman and reigning junior national champion Riley Amos on the men’s side ahead of pros Stephan Davoust and Henry Nadell, both FLC alums. The women’s winner was Michaela Thompson of FLC ahead of junior stars Maggie and Ruth Holcomb.
A week later, the race was at Horse Gulch. Green was proud to have the course ride Raider Ridge, the first time it had been included in a bike race in Durango.
Three-time mountain bike Olympian Todd Wells claimed the win in the men’s field, followed by brother Troy Wells and junior rider Ivan Sippy. The women’s race was won by Durango High’s Bailey Cioppa ahead of fellow junior Lauren Aggeler. Recently graduated FLC star Ellen Campbell also was on the podium,
The races provided young riders in Durango Devo as well as recently arrived FLC cyclists a chance to compete alongside some of Durango’s top pros.
“They appreciated it big time,” Cheeney said. “It is really fun to have the small, intimate race scene right in town. The Devo kids were so excited to race the college kids right in their backyard. The younger kids really look up to them. As a coach, it was amazing for me.”
Green aimed to have four races. But after the Sept. 19 event at Horse Gulch, he got a call from the city.
“They told me I couldn’t run races anymore,” Green said.
It wasn’t because of COVID-19 protocols, either, as riders in the small fields had worn masks at start lines and at post-race gatherings, including on the podiums. It was because of pedestrian balance with other trail users unhappy portions of their favorite trails were closed for permitted races for even two hours of a Saturday.
“Our trails are such close proximity to everybody. They all want to go out their front door for their dog-walking adventure. I totally get it,” Cheeney said. “It’s funny, if you do a bike race in the offseason when it’s too chilly for lots of people, then nobody complains. When it’s nice out, you get the complaints.”
Green hasn’t given up, though. He is in talks with Purgatory Resort to hold a third event. The future mechanical engineering student at FLC also plans on a full cross-country series in 2021, a five-race cyclo-cross series starting in November in Aztec – because Durango will not allow it – as well as future enduro races.
Green said he wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of his roommates, who have helped set up and breakdown courses. Pigford also took race photos to help pull together a completely professional bike race environment.
“I’ve got a lot on my plate, but I have good time right now to do it,” the entrepreneurial teenager said. “It’s been kind of tough. It’s my first year going without my parents’ financial support, and it’s a big hurdle for a 17-year-old trying to do it all alone for the first time. But I’ve kept a lot of motivation through running this race series. I have great people around me. I am comfortable where I am, and my spirits are high.”