After last year’s win in Category 2/3 and a 2011 win in 4/5, Kip Taylor opted to ride with the professionals this year at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
Good call, Kip.
Taylor made an early solo break and held off LeRoy Popowski to win the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic pro men’s road race Saturday from Durango to Silverton.
Taylor, a former Fort Lewis College cross country runner (2006-07) and Albuquerque resident, made a break from the peloton about 10 miles before Durango Mountain Resort, building a lead as big as roughly 2 minutes heading into Coal Bank Pass.
The victor said an early “pedestrian” pace set by the peloton gave him the idea to just go for it early on. He got out of the saddle and put in plenty of pedaling in building a sizeable lead.
“When I made the move, I kind of had one of those ‘uh-oh’ moments, but the peloton itself, all the big boys up front on the sponsored teams were kind of just going pedestrian, so I figured I’d just go after it,” Taylor said. “I figured if I could get to the top of (Coal Bank Pass) first, I’d have a chance. ... And it just stuck the rest of the way.”
Popowski trimmed the lead to about 30 seconds coming out of the pass, but Taylor built the lead back on Molas Pass for a comfortable win. Taylor won the 47-mile tour in 2 hours, 18 minutes, 39 seconds.
Popowski finished in 2:19:53.
“I just didn’t have it. I haven’t had a lot of racing days in yet this year,” Popowski said. “The high end – my endurance is good – but I don’t have the high end. ... And I spent too much time on the front chasing.”
After building that big lead, then seeing Popowski close, Taylor said the biggest key was keeping a positive mindset as he made the climb up Molas Pass, all the while keeping an eye on his tail.
“I saw him, and I’m a big believer in giving yourself positive encouragement, so I just kept telling myself to do what I could,” the 27-year-old Taylor said. “I could see him behind me, so that gave me a good push to keep pushing pedal.”
Yannick Eckmann finished third in the men’s field, while FLC alumnus and coach Rotem Ishay and former IHBC champion Rolando Gonzalez rounded out the top five.
Robin Eckmann was sixth and five-time champion Ned Overend seventh. Sepp Kuss was eighth, and Damian Calvert finished ninth in the 42nd edition of the race.
Popowski sounded disappointed in the lack of work by the peloton as a whole to reel Taylor back in before the big climbs. The juwi-Slipstream rider spent perhaps more time at the front of the peloton than he would’ve liked, absorbing the brunt of the wind and expending energy that could’ve been helpful down the stretch in pursuit of the eventual champion.
“It was just too much,” Popowski said. “Nobody wanted to work. And we didn’t know who (Taylor) was, so I think a lot of people just assumed that he would just eventually come back, and there was no urgency to organize chase.”
The peloton set a steady – if not exactly breakneck – pace early on and stayed together for the most part until Robin Eckmann and Benjamin Blaugrund tried to get away near Honeyville, but they were reeled in a few miles later.
The only successful break of the day belonged to Taylor, who according to IHBC director Gaige Sippy is believed to be the first New Mexican to take home the men’s title. And it was enough for a big victory to open Durango’s biggest cycling weekend.
“It feels good showing those guys that the amateurs can get in there sometimes,” Taylor said.