New, tougher mountain bike course for Iron Horse Bicycle Classic – The Journal
The new route uses difficult trails at Horse Gulch, starts and ends at Durango Mesa Park
In recent years, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic mountain bike race has been defined by sending riders to downtown Durango and the Steamworks Brewing Co. bar This year, COVID-19 has blocked the new course popular with runners and spectators, and a new course was designed using the Horse Gulch trail system.
The new course, which is almost entirely single-track and features longer climbs and descents, will almost certainly create a different racing dynamic than its predecessor. The course will also be a new challenge for the competitors, many of whom are Durango residents who compete on the world mountain biking scene.
The IHBC mountain bike race often features fields that are just as competitive as the more acclaimed road race at Silverton, with established professionals as well as young people coming. This Sunday, Durangoan Stephan Davoust, the 2019 MTB champion, will face riders such as Riley Amos and Howard Grotts in the men’s professional race. On the women’s side, Olympic prospect Erin Huck will face Evelyn Dong of Utah and Ruth Holcomb of Durango.
“Having a lot of the race at Horse Gulch will make it a bit more interesting in professional racing,” said Grotts, a former mountain biker Olympian and multiple race winner. “I have no expectations, it’s gonna be just a draw to see what I can do.”
Grotts may claim it’s “a draw,” but his rivals know he almost always drives fast, and recent Strava rides prove it. For his part, Grotts gives Davoust and Henry Nadell, alumnus of Fort Lewis College, two pilots who could do well.
“He will be a runner to watch,” Grotts said of compatriot Durango Devo and former FLC student Davoust. “He has the bike skills and high altitude fitness right now, and not doing a road run will probably help him.”
Davoust recently won the cross country race at the Solider Hollow Bike Festival in Utah, which shows he’s in good shape. Plus, as a local from Durango, he’ll be familiar with the route, including the steep climb up the Telegraph Trail.
Another fit local is Amos, a 19-year-old who has just successfully raced in Europe on the World Cup circuit. Amos finished second in the Under-23 race in the Czech Republic, a career best result for the young driver. Amos has perhaps had the most experience racing around Durango Mesa Park of anyone on the court, having won a high school state championship there as a senior at Animas High School and having won the cyclo-cross race organized by FLC last fall.
On the women’s side, Ruth Holcomb has also just completed a stint in Europe. The future FLC cyclist won the professional women’s peloton in 2019 and placed second at the Queen of the Mountain Omnium.
“The whole course is better, but it sure doesn’t look the same as you are riding downtown and everyone is there,” said Holcomb.
One aspect that will impact the race is how the runners recover from Saturday’s road race. Holcomb said it was a mental advantage knowing his competitors were also tired before the race.
“Most of the people lining up in the professional women’s mountain bike race also participated in the road race the day before, which is mentally helpful,” she said. “You’re pretty tired of going in, and certainly by the end of the mountain bike race you’re ready for a few days off for sure.”
Todd Wells, a former Olympian who plans to race in the pro category despite retiring from full-time racing in 2017, says recovery for mountain bike racing depends on how much training runners do at the ‘advanced.
“When I was running full time it really wasn’t a big deal,” Wells said. “I would generally run better on day two so the recovery didn’t feel like much, but now that I’m not riding so much I’m definitely going to feel on day two. The less you ride and the older you are, the greater the recovery when doing multiple runs in a row. “
Huck, who hopes to be selected for the Tokyo Olympic team, is another person who could perform well in the professional women’s arena. Huck comes to the Iron Horse for a stress-free weekend, but will always be a factor in the race.
“I think this will really be the first time that we are really going to see a fun event since COVID and the first time that we will see a lot of our very close friends since COVID,” Huck said. “We are looking forward to that too.”
The course will start and end at Durango Mesa Park, home of the 2018 and 2019 Colorado High School Mountain Bike Championships, and a possible nod to future open space plans if plans for a bicycle park materialize.
“Currently, the trails that exist were built just for the Colorado Leage state championships and aren’t hiked a lot other than that,” Amos said. “We were up there the other day for a short track race to get those trails moving again, so that will be good.”
After a short section on the Durango Mesa property, the course quickly enters the Horse Gulch grassland area and begins to climb up the Telegraph trail. The climb is steep and punctuated with hard rocky sections. The top of the climb is the most difficult uphill part of the route as it reaches a grade of over 20%.
Runners will make a quick left turn on the Anasazi Trail for a steep descent to the meadow, where they will begin the next big climb on the course. The climb is more gradual than the first and has a brief respite downhill on Stacey’s trail, so this will be a section for runners who can maintain great power on shallow inclines.
Once at the northernmost point of the course, riders begin the descent on the Cuchillo Trail and then head to Horse Gulch Road. A short climb and tricky descent on the east face of Raider Ridge then sends riders back to the start / finish area.
Due to the very desert terrain of Horse Gulch, heat could play a role in the performance of the riders. Additionally, gusts of wind on exposed sections of the trail could help or hinder runners’ ambitions.
The pros will complete three laps of the course over a distance of approximately 27 miles, with expert categories over two laps. The beginner categories will do two laps of a shortened course which eliminates the ascent of the Telegraph for a total of 14 miles.
“The Iron Horse Mountain Bike Race, before we started riding through Steamworks, we used to ride Horse Gulch a bit,” Wells said.
Wells also noted that the Horse Gulch course will be more difficult than the downtown one, as the old course allows runners to rest a bit on the sidewalk sections. “You have to win every pedal stroke,” he says.
Grotts added, “I’m incredibly excited for the Durango Mesa Park and what they have planned there. It’s a long time for Durango. It’s going to be fun to ride there for this race a bit and come back on. the Durango. trails and see what I can do. “
Regional Sports Editor John Livingston contributed to this report.