It was a disappointing finish for Locomotive No. 480.The racer with perhaps the most experience pulled into Silverton well behind the pro pack this year, losing to several first-timers and failing to make any kind of push near the end. It was the latest in a string of weak finishes for the vintage 1923-1925 locomotive in Durango's annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
Conditions for Saturday's races, however, were "perfect," said race director Gaige Sippy after the race. No wind, no rain, not one flake of snow and no serious accidents.
Sippy was understandably relieved after several weeks of compulsively checking the latest weather reports. Last year's race was canceled because of 14 inches of snow in the high country, and snow looked likely in extended forecasts for this weekend's race for weeks.
"I'm excited. It's a good thing. We needed about a five-hour window, and we got it," said Sippy.
This year, 960 racers took part in the road races and 1,400 rode the tour. Anthony Colby of Durango finished the 47-mile course in first place in the men's division and Mara Abbott of Boulder won the women's race.
The pro field featured 60 men and 48 women. Riders represented 38 states. The oldest racer was 76-year-old Walt Axthelm of Durango; the youngest, 13-year-old Cully Brown, also of Durango.
Each year the race includes two climbs topping 10,000 feet at Molas and Coal Bank passes. Racers take on 34 ascending miles and 13 descending miles on the steep mountain passes on U.S. Highway 550 between Durango and Silverton.
Talk in the parking lots near the Durango High School starting location centered on the gray, angry skies overhead. But the weather held off.
La Plata County Sheriff's patrol deputy Steve Reiter, 32, was sitting on the frame of his bike, wearing a black "Dopers Suck" jersey, getting ready to pedal out. His fifth Iron Horse, Rieter said he takes the Molas Pass stretch between 50 and 60 mph.
"I finally get a chance to speed," he said, laughing.
One of those looking for violators Saturday was Jim Mohle. As a motorcycle-mounted USA Cycling official, Mohle said the most common violations he sees are center-lane violations and pushing. He also rides out front to help notify motorists and ensure cyclist safety, he said.
It's fast to take the four-mile descent from Molas Pass into Silverton at 59 mph in a car, but cyclist Nicholas Jones, 28, of Dolores remembers seeing that number on his bike's speedometer in 2007, bumps in the road making it barely legible.
Right after that, he hit a pothole that altered the alignment of his front wheel and tweaked the hub of his wheel set in the back. He said the impact destroyed his front wheel, but he finished the race without crashing.
Jones brought a slower, disc-wheel bike - one better suited for the wet and the snow - to Durango but decided at race time against using it.
"I'm going with all light gear. I'm going to push all the way through," he said.
Before USA Cycling chief official Dan Thomas blew his whistle and Jones and the rest of his division headed down Camino del Rio into the San Juan Mountains, Jones shared what goes through his head when he descends Molas Pass.
"I feel free. I feel like nothing can touch me," he said. "And then reality sets in when you hit a bump or the wind hits you or something goes wrong, and you just think, 'At this point - if you screw up, that's it, buddy.'"