Tuesday, March 14, 2017

25th Iron Horse - Republished from 1996

When my old high school friend Todd Barbey, invited me to his horse ranch in Durango Colorado to participate in the 25th running of the Iron Horse Classic, I thought "Hey that would be fun." Two and a half hours into the 47 mile, 5800 Vt. ft race negotiating 3 inches of snow over the 10,000 ft Colbank pass I had a different impression.

Having spent 6 years in the Swiss Alps I should have known better and been more prepared but hey, a 47 mile race, it’s not that far and with all that climbing I’m sure not going to weigh myself down with heavy things like a warm rain jacket, winter gloves and booties. But that’s what I would have needed and more (a tent would have been good) to finish safely. When I was finally rescued 8 miles from the finish there was 3 inches of snow covering my abandoned bike. Anyway, All’s well that ends well, and Todd and I will have a good story to tell.

The race is truly an America classic which started 25 years ago when two brothers; one a cyclist, the other the train conductor on the Colorado - Silverton line, challenged each other to a race on the opening day of the train line. On that first running the train won but the younger brother-cyclist eventually prevailed beating the train in the 3rd running. Since then the race has grown steadily and the 25th running had well over 800 riders.

This years winner Jonathan Vaughters set the course record and broke the 2 hour barrier. He simply had a superior level of fitness having just completed the Tour Dupont, 16th in the CG.
I think I was headed to a 3:10 time which would have put me in the top twenty of the 45+ class. The winner in that group was at 2:17!!!

The perennial favorite, Durango’s own Ned Overend is the Iron Horse participant with the most wins at 4 victories and even at the age of 41 took 2nd also breaking the course record. The following is exerted from the Iron Horse Web site.

The day began as a perfect racing day in Durango with overcast skies and a cool 40 degrees. By the time the winners reached the finish in Silverton it was snowing. Jonathan Vaughters from Englewood, CO was the winner breaking the previous Iron Horse record by a whopping four minutes. At the finish Vaughters confessed, "I actually thought I was playing it conservatively". Yeah, right! Second place went to Ned Overend of Durango who was four minutes behind Vaughters.

The race began with the parade through Durango pacing with the train. The race didn't actually begin until the racers reached the Iron Horse Inn, just north of town. A 30 bike pileup occurred shortly after that, but the racers had the advantage of a 20-30 mph tailwind coming up the Animas Valley.

The high point of the race (literally) is Molas pass (just under 11,000 ft. By 11:30 there were 3 inches of snow forcing race officials to stop the race for hundreds of riders further back and evacuate them off the passes. Most who finished had to brave hypothermic conditions for the last 15 miles of the race. As is often true of spring in Colorado, the weather was downright pleasant by 1:30.

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