Cycling fans couldn’t have asked for a better lead group at the 45th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, and they provided a finish that nobody will soon forget.
After the 47-mile race from Durango to Silverton, it was Payson McElveen and Benjamin Sonntag first to the finish line at the IHBC Coca-Cola professional men’s road race. It came down to a photo finish, and McElveen barely edged out Sonntag, and Ned Overend finished third.
In an epic sprint through downtown Silverton, five men went together and provided an incredible push to the finish line. In the last few meters, Todd Wells slipped out of a pedal and Durango’s Christopher Blevins crashed just shy of the finish line before McElveen and Sonntag crossed at nearly the same time.
It was McElveen’s first IHBC road race win, and he was certain that he’d placed second until minutes after the frantic finish when they announced that he had actually won. His time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 7.5 seconds was barely good enough, as Sonntag finished in 2:30:08.0.
“It was a great race and such a privilege to be in that lead group with those legends,” McElveen said. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect because this is my first road race. When I was there among Todd Wells, Ned, Ben and the guys up front, I got more confidence.”
McElveen is a Fort Lewis graduate. The young rider from Texas won the Squawker Classic road race earlier this year and wrapped up his collegiate cycling career only weeks ago.
Sonntag has called Durango home since 2008. He is a Fort Lewis College alum and is married to Durango road cycling star Carmen Small, who won the USA Cycling Professional Time Trial National Championship race Friday in North Carolina. The couple celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary Friday, making it a weekend the power cycling couple will never forget.
“We came five to a sprint, but Todd slipped out of his pedal and Chris fell,” Sonntag said. “I’ve had plenty of second-place finishes this year, so it is kind of disappointing. Having the group lead the way, all of us being from Durango, just shows how strong the cycling community is here. It’s awesome.”
Overend crossed the line in third for a second consecutive year. At age 60, he has five IHBC titles, with the last coming in 2011. The lead group let him take the front much of the way, making his trip perhaps the most difficult.
“I was surprised at how well the younger guys climbed,” Overend said. “What this finish does is it confirms how many great pros we have from Durango. The cycling in this town is stronger than it has ever been, and I’m happy to still be a part of it.”
The group of five separated themselves shortly before Coal Bank Pass, where Overend was leading for quite a way through the steep inclines.
“It was such a strong group, super tactical,” Overend said. “The speed changes these guys did were tough for me. I like to keep the pace up, and Todd and I pulled ahead around Andrews Lake, they just accelerated a little better at the end.”
Wells crossed the line in fourth, and brother Troy Wells was behind in sixth.
“I tried to lead it out early and pulled out of the pedal,” Wells said. “It was so much fun to be in this group. The crash looked really bad, so it’s good to see everyone walked away OK. Chris has had some amazing results already this year, and he might be our best shot at a mountain bike world title in the next few years.”
Wells had to slow up at the end to avoid the Blevins crash. Immediately after the group crossed, the attention turned to Blevins, who took awhile to gather himself as blood trickled down his left eyebrow.
Just one day before, the teen graduated from Durango High School. That already made for a memorable weekend before he found himself sprinting to the finish among his childhood heroes.
“It was two of the most special things someone from Durango can do in one weekend,” Blevins said. “Racing the Iron Horse is an honor itself, and I was right there with all the guys I’ve idolized for years. The race is so cemented in the town’s history, and graduating is obviously a milestone. It’s a great weekend.”
Blevins said he will participate in Sunday’s mountain bike race, but Sonntag and Wells are likely to be at the front again.
“It’s a very unique mountain bike race, especially riding through (Steamworks), literally 6 inches from the people in the bar,” Wells said. “There’s nothing like it anywhere we go.”
McElveen’s Fort Lewis College teammate Cormac McGeough came in seventh (2:31.17), and fellow Skyhawk Ian McPherson finished 19th (2:36:56). Christopher Brennan came in eighth (2:32:00), Spencer Downing was ninth in 2:33:30 and Chris Carr rounded out the top 10, finishing in 2:33.30.
Rolando Gonzalez was 17th with a time of 2:35:13.