Since its inception 43 years ago, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has been inseparable from its founding president, Ed Zink. Through the decades, he has been its steadfast leader and visionary, building the annual race from a bet between brothers into an institution for Durango, the region and the larger cycling community. In doing so, Zink has earned many well-deserved accolades for the event he shepherded. He stepped down as president of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic board of directors this past week to enjoy a well-deserved rest.
The definitive bicycle race in Durango – and the longest-running in Colorado – starts with an engaging story of sibling rivalry. Tom and Jim Mayer made a wager in 1971 that Tom – a cyclist – would arrive in Silverton via bicycle before his brother Jim – a brakeman for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad – rolled in by train. Tom was right, and tradition was born. The next year, Tom and Zink corralled 36 other riders to take the challenge. Now, the event draws 4,000 racers of professional and mere mortal caliber and is the anchor of a multiday cycling extravaganza. Through it all, Zink has been the Iron Horse’s champion, barometer and advocate.
Zink has overseen the Iron Horse’s evolution that parallels cycling’s ascension as a widely – and wildly – popular activity. Each year’s trek to Silverton offers professional cyclists the chance to compete in the grueling 50-mile ride, and the citizens’ tour makes the same challenge available to the avocational cyclist as well – now numbering in the thousands each year.
The Memorial Day Weekend institution does not stop with this tradition, though. Zink has helped grow the event to include activities that match all levels of athleticism and interest. The “Quarter Horse” race to Purgatory offers an alternative to the full Silverton endeavor. Time trials give serious riders a test of their prowess. A criterium that runs through downtown Durango is thrilling to watch, a boon for local businesses and a challenge for cyclists. The cruiser criterium gives the nonspandexed an opportunity to take part in downtown hot laps, while demonstrating their wackiest bike designs and costumes. Kids’ races help ensure the Iron Horse’s future. The full package both responds and contributes to cycling’s growth.
It has seen its share of adversity, too. Late May is known for bringing rogue storms to Colorado, and several Iron Horse events have been cancelled or cut short over the years – including the 2014 race, which was abridged. These are certainly setbacks, but Zink and his team have handled them professionally and with riders’ safety always the primary consideration. This requires adaptation from organizers and participants; Zink has facilitated that with skill.
Zink will hand the reins to Chris Vivolo, who has been an Iron Horse board member, volunteer and three-decade transportation director for the race. He is a proven and dedicated Iron Horse advocate who is well-suited to follow in Zink’s footsteps. He will do so with the help of returning race director Gaige Sippy, who led the event from 2007 to 2013. The leadership team is strong – in large part thanks to Zink’s construction. He leaves an impressive legacy for which the community – both Durango and that of cycling in general – owes him great thanks.