Iron Horse Classic: Road Race

Although I have lived in Colorado for five years and have seen much of this gorgeous state, I had never made it down to Durango until this weekend. The 41st annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic gave me the perfect excuse to visit the mountain town that has produced some of our countries best cyclists. I knew I was in for a treat, and so far, Durango and Iron Horse have not disappointed.

It’s my understanding that the road race has always been the premiere event associated with Iron Horse – which strikes me as a little strange given all the incredible mountain biking in the area and all the mountain bike greats who have or still do call Durango home. This premiere event now includes several different categories of racing, plus a recreational ride for the citizens (recreational riders without racing licenses). This meant there were literally thousands of people out on the road all at once – which was pretty cool but also pretty confusing.

The race started at an early hour. The gun went off at 7:30AM. It’s the earliest I’ve stood on the start line for a long time. We were lucky to start so early because crazy winds picked up later in the day. When I went into Durango for dinner tonight, I couldn’t even see the mountains because it was so dusty. I still felt the wind as I raced, but it’s nowhere near as gusty as it is right now. That being said, the descents were made more dangerous because of the wind, and I could tell people were exercising restraint on the downhill because of this.

Although the dust is obstructing the mountain views tonight, we had perfect blue skies this morning – and the views! The scenery we whizzed by was simply spectacular. I took it all in as much as the race allowed. It was unreal. I kept joking with the other girls in the field, before things split up, that we should pull over for a group shot with the mountains behind us.

The professional women’s race was actually a combined field of pro 1/2/3 women. We raced 47 miles from Durango to Silverton. Starting at the Durango High School, we rolled out through the valley and covered two mountain passes before descending into Silverton. Coal Bank Pass was the steeper of the two passes and featured a steady pitch until the final kilometer or so when the gradient really kicked up. From Coal Bank, we descended to the base of Molas Pass for our second climb. The Molas Pass grade is much more gradual than the steeper, sharper Coal Bank Pass climb. Once over Molas Pass, it’s essentially all downhill into Silverton. There’s a two kilometer stretch at the end that includes a false flat up towards the finish.

I didn’t know much about the course ahead of the race, and having raced it once, it’s clear that it’s definitely the type of race where once you’ve done it, you learn a lot about the course that you can use on the next go around. I really had no idea where things would get hard or where people would start attacking or where I needed to hold on just a few hundred meters longer because the climb would level out.

Our group stayed together through the valley. We were cruising along at a fairly steady tempo, and I was spending a lot of time on the front. Initially, different riders were taking turns to come up and ride with me, but at a certain point, the last person who was sitting on the front with me pulled off and no one came to take her place. So, I stayed on the front and rode my own tempo. I was keeping a steady clip. I was definitely not rolling along at a super easy conversational pace, but I wasn’t drilling it either. I was pretty content to set the tempo because part of why I’m here this weekend is to get in a good training block, so I wasn’t look for a joy ride ahead of the climbs.

Before the Coal Bank Pass climb began in earnest, there is a fair amount of stair step climbing. When we hit these rollers, I let other people come around me. The climbers took over the pace-setting, and a few riders launched attacks. Nothing ever got too far. People would open gaps, slow down and the group would come back together again. Accordion effect. Once we hit some steady climbing, the pace picked up and I slide off the back.

A three rider lead group formed at the front and a chase group came together behind the leaders. I was solo behind the chase group with about two-thirds of the field behind me. There were so many people out on the road that it was hard to tell who everybody was and keep track of who was in my race.

Eventually, I bridged up to the chase group. I come around them and began to set a steady tempo on the climb. I find I have an easier time riding my own pace up climbs, and if the people around me are going to let me do, that’s what I’m going to do. So I did – for awhile.

My tempo caught up with me at a certain point. My back started to tighten, and that made it hard for me to maintain a steady pace. I wasn’t comfortable sitting, and my body wanted me to stand to give my back some relief, but I’m not a standing climber. I’d rather grind away in the saddle. I couldn’t find the right position, and as climbing became increasingly uncomfortable, the chase group that I had caught and then led pulled away from me. I lost contact with them over the climb and never was able to catch them on the descent.

The descent was super fast. Regardless of the wind, people were flying down. The group managed to make it down much faster than I could solo.

I did manage to catch a few people going down Coal Bank. A few of the climbers can’t descend as well as they can climb and they popped off the chase group. I passed them on the descent only to have them catch me back on the climb. We repeated the pattern on the descent off Molas Pass into Silverton, but this time, the one rider I caught didn’t have a climb on which to overtake me again – so I managed to hold her off before the finish.

I’m still not exactly where I ended up in the results – definitely somewhere in the top ten. Results haven’t been uploaded to the website yet. It sounds like they’ll be posted in town on Sunday, so I’ll check them there and update this then.

Results aside, I was happy that I felt good enough on the climbs. I was not so happy that my back tightened up the way it did. It made the second half of the race incredibly uncomfortable.

Silverton is a cool little finish town. It was great to see so many people at the finish who had driven there to wait for their racers or riders. A lot of people set up picnics, lounged around on blankets, caught a quick nap or explored the town as they waited for the roads to open again. Our race ended at 10:30AM, but the road to Durango didn’t open until 1PM. It gave me some time to kill.  I checked out a coffee shop and chatted with a bunch of people, and, of course, I whipped out the camera. The atmosphere here is great, and I’m definitely looking forward to racing my mountain bike tomorrow.

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