In what is becoming almost a farcical meteorological tradition, the Memorial Day weekend forecast for Durango is full of less-than-ideal thunderstorms and showers. While the precipitation certainly is welcome to the plants, animals, lakes and rivers in the region, it is far less so to the thousands of cyclists planning to participate in the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic events Saturday and Sunday.
The 38th annual event will feature the traditional 50-mile race against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad that began as a bet between brothers Tom and Jim Mayer over whether Tom, on a bicycle, could beat the train on its trek to Silverton. He did, and the race was born. In its evolution over nearly four decades, the Iron Horse has both stayed true to its roots and expanded its offerings to include more than just the 2,500 cyclists who will challenge the steam engine Saturday morning.
New this year is the Quarter Horse - a 25-mile race that begins in downtown Durango and ends at Durango Mountain Resort. This event serves the dual purpose of providing cyclists a shorter - but still challenging - ride, and also giving organizers a contingency plan should the weather turn sufficiently sour to make bicycle travel over Coal Bank and Molas passes unsafe. That was the painful lesson learned after the 2008 Iron Horse, when the race was canceled after 15 inches of snow fell in the high country. Recovering from that unfortunate turn of events taught race director Gaige Sippy the importance of a backup plan and the Quarter Horse fits the bill nicely. Fortunately, this year's forecast is not nearly as dire as that in 2008, but cyclists will have an event regardless of what the skies deliver.
And, as has been the case more often than race organizers care to remember, the skies are likely to deliver something more than bluebird sunshine. The National Weather Service is calling for thunderstorms above 8,000 feet Saturday - with a 80 percent chance of rain across the region. Racers and their fans are likely to be soggy, but that is an acceptable condition. Freezing while speeding down a narrow and slushy highway, as would have been the case last year, is not. By comparison, this weekend's weather looks to be just fine.
For those not interested in the full 50-mile trek - or even the 25-mile Quarter Horse - there is a series of other events for all ages and abilities. While Saturday will be filled primarily with the two road races, Sunday will offer a downtown criterium - with divisions ranging from kids younger than 8 to professional riders - as well as a "Cruiser Crit" where cyclists can show off their whimsical bikes on this family-friendly pedal through town, and a concert at 7 p.m. on Main Avenue sponsored by Three Springs. Durango Motorless Transit also will hold its annual Narrow Gauge Run - a 10-mile foot race through town. On Monday, the annual time-trial bicycle race will be held.
Whether participating in any of the weekend's athletic endeavors or cheering on those who are, this year's Iron Horse Bicycle Classic - and all of the peripheral events that accompany it - offers something for locals and visitors alike. Get out and enjoy the weekend - and bring an umbrella.