The Iron Horse Classic

The memorial day weekend pilgrimage to Durango has become part of my summer. A reason to get to Durango is always needed; the town is just too far from everything else to make the trip on a whim. Coming to race mountain bikes provides the perfect excuses to travel this far, and having a friendly family to stay at makes in all the better – Katie O’Blocks parent’s put us up once again, making it way nicer than staying in a motel.

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The race course is a great mix of true mountain biking and spectator friendly entertainment. Starting on main street in front of packed crowds, the course took a pretty direct route towards the trails, starting with a brutal four minute climb up the “nature trail” towards the Fort Lewis campus. From there we rode around the rim overlooking town, then made a descent towards town, another climb towards campus, and then a lap through the trails around campus before a final plunge to town. But this is where it got really good. The course then proceeded to go THROUGH Steamworks brewery – in through a window off the street, past the bar, around a corner and out the back down a huge ramp. This is all on a route lined by huge crowds – people on the switchbacks out of town, people on the road to the trails. Crowds three or four deep around the start straight, and a baying pack of drunken lunatics inside the brewery.

The race got started hard and fast – a one minute sprint from down town Durango to the campus trails and a sketchy holeshot towards the trails. I slotted into fourth place behind Ben Sonntag, Todd Wells, and Ryan Standish. I was amazed to see how many people were out watching – Mountain Biking is alive in Durango! I moved up to third place at the top of the climb, right where I wanted to be. Sonntag and Wells are both locals and have ridden these trails countless times. They’re also very experienced, and I knew that following them would lead to a good day on the bike. It was also a little dangerous. I’ve never raced in a group with Wells or Sonntag; I consider them a little above my pay-grade (they’re paid, I’m not…). Today’s race gave me a good opportunity to follow them, and it paid off. By the time we got to the descent back to town, it was the three of us with a 30 second gap back to a chase group. We rode back into town at warp speed – tucked behind Wells who has a huge engine. Entering the brewery is mind blowing. The heat is immense, the smell terrible and the sound all encompassing. I don’t think anyone threw beer directly AT us, but simply there was a constant mist of alcohol in the air. I strongly recommend to come down and race here, simply for the experience of racing through a brewery.

Lap two went very much the same; three of us on the climb. Sonntag set the pace, I found that it wasn’t too bad, and managed to move past Wells at the top when gaps started opening up. That was perhaps a mistake, as I lost Sonntag’s wheel on the next climb, and the three of us rode back in to town spread out by a couple of seconds. Through the brewery I got stuck behind some lapped traffic, and ended up being gapped a little for the start of lap three. The pace slowed enough that I got back on, and managed to hold on up the climb too. Suddenly I realised that I wasn’t going to get dropped – that was a great feeling. This is where the race changed – we hit an almost constant stream of lapped traffic. From being a simple three way battle, we now had to factor in people who didn’t want to move out the way. Really frustrating for everyone involved. Todd got past a group of four people before Ben and I, and opened a gap. He headed down the descent with about 10 seconds on us. Ben and I were together, and quickly realised that the race would be decided by the sprint in to Steamworks, as there wasn’t enough time to pass coming out of the brewery. Ben got in ahead of me, and from there I didn’t have the beans to sprint around him on the very short straight to the finish.

I’m happier with how I felt than the third place – I felt like I was actually racing, not just hanging on. I wasn’t on the rivet from the gun, but had the capacity to up the pace and go with attacks. I’ve got to thank Coach Dave for that. He’s really changed up my training this year and I think it is paying off.

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Now for the sour side – this blog is about writing what happened, not just the good stuff. There were a couple of things about the race which weren’t awesome. The previously mentioned lapped-traffic was a huge problem. The slower categories were sent out onto course about 15 minutes after the pro start. The lap was 25 minutes long. It didn’t add up. We caught huge groups of people, and unlike in most races I’ve done, they weren’t happy to move out of the way. I got elbowed and sworn at. Not cool at all. One person, after Ben and Todd had passed, looked back and saw me and then jumped back into the trail. I was amazed. It really affected the racing. Generally I blame the organiser for creating the conflict – there are ways to manage how many people end up clashing on course, but I also have to think that this group of racers, for whatever reason, didn’t paint themselves in the best light.

Second gripe – the podium. Or lack thereof. How can MTB races still get it so wrong? We finished in front of a huge crowd. Local reporters were around and racers hanging out. The race had live timing, so the results weren’t in question. Instead of doing the podium then, it was done an hour and a bit later. We stood at the finish for an hour in our cycling kit, hungry and aching, waiting for the podium. By the time it happened, the crowds had gone, and the only people around were the crews taking down the finish arch. What made it worse is that Todd Wells had gone home. Without any idea of when the podium was happening, and for him what was just a local race, there was no reason for him to hang out in lycra for an hour. That means I didn’t get a podium photo. That was really frustrating. I’m completely supported by Boulder Cycle Sport – they make my racing possible. A podium photo is one of the few ways I can say thank you to them. One of the few ways I can put out on the internet that I am wearing a BCS jersey is the podium photo, and when I race well with stiff competition, it’s really important that it happens. For MTB promotors, it’s just a side show. How do we show them that the podium is one of the few ways that the racers who support their races can repay their sponsors?