Mindy Caruso had a Memorial Day weekend to remember last year.
The cyclist out of Albuquerque broke Mara Abbott’s stranglehold on the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race, then emerged victorious in the criterium and time trial to sweep all three omnium events.
Now a field of skilled young riders is lining up to try and keep her from an encore performance.
Caruso will try and defend her title when the field lines up for departure today at Durango High School for another ride to Silverton. With or without a repeat of last year’s dominance, the 2012 Iron Horse was an experience of a lifetime for Caruso.
“Those kind of things I really do think are once in a lifetime, and you do appreciate them when they happen,” Caruso said.
Caruso added she’s feeling a bit better about herself on the bike as the weather turns more summer-esque. But, for now, she’s going to worry about staying healthy, enjoying herself and seeing where that takes her.
“My No. 1 goal is always to be safe, No. 2 is to have fun, and everything else is extra credit. ... We’ll just kind of have to see how things play out and how the weather is doing,” she said.
The field should be wide open as Abbott, who recently won the Tour of the Gila and won four consecutive IHBC road races before finishing second last year, is riding with her Exergy TWENTY16 team at the USA Cycling Professional Road and Time Trial National Championships in Chattanooga, Tenn. Joining her will be Durango native and teammate Kristin McGrath, who would’ve been another name to watch for.
Even without them, however, this field has plenty of talent. Exergy TWENTY16 riders Heather Fischer and Rebecca Balboni, a Durango resident, should be in the mix. Fischer finished third in last year’s road race, was second in the omnium and won the collegiate road race national title while at the University of Colorado in 2012. Balboni was the Category 4 omnium champion last year and will have the comfort of racing at home.
“(Saturday) it could be anybody’s race,” said Balboni, a Fort Lewis College alumna. “And it seems like a race where there’s always a darkhorse that comes out of the woodwork.”
Abby Mickey, who finished fifth in the road race last year, is expected to return this year, as well. And former FLC teammates Sarah Sturm and Lauren Catlin will take to the road, among a crop of other skilled riders.
Sturm, seventh in the road race last year, came back from spending time abroad and hopped into the Tour of the Gila, where she finished 33rd overall and eighth in the young rider standings. Despite that ride, she said she’s not exactly sure where she sits fitness-wise, having only that event as a litmus test thus far.
“I could do really well (Saturday), or it could be really painful,” Sturm said.
Sturm grabbed some valuable professional experience as a part of the IAM team at the Tour of the Gila. Most importantly, she learned the value of quality preparation for a race, which could pay dividends this weekend.
“I learned a lot of tips about preparing for racing – when to eat, how much to eat, how to sit in a pack. They helped me learn how to be a pro cyclist in the sense of preparation,” she said.
The pack should be bigger to start this year after some reshuffling of the starting groups. Caruso said she’s of the opinion that it’ll be a benefit to the female riders.
“I think for the women it could be a positive thing,” she said. “If I was a guy, I would maybe have some concerns, but for women, I think it should work well.”
And in that pack will sit one rider for whom just the thought of winning the IHBC road race elicits a tangible physical reaction.
“Oh my God, I just got goosebumps even thinking about it,” Sturm said.