Who will challenge Overend’s legacy?

2012 Classic features a handful of hopefuls

Ned Overend, the only five-time champion of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, ascends Coal Bank Pass in last year’s victory ride, his fifth road race championship. “The two passes. That’s where the decisive moments are,” challenger Rotem Ishay said. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo

Ned Overend, the only five-time champion of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, ascends Coal Bank Pass in last year’s victory ride, his fifth road race championship. “The two passes. That’s where the decisive moments are,” challenger Rotem Ishay said.

Durango’s Ned Overend never gets tired of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

Some would say Overend never gets tired – period.

The ageless/tireless icon of Durango cycling reminded the universe one year ago that the annual road race from Durango to Silverton is synonymous with Overend himself.

“Deadly Nedly” won the Iron Horse road race in 2011 at age 55, reaching deep into his arsenal of experience with a high-speed tactical descent on the race that’s known for its climbing challenges over Coal Bank and Molas passes.

He outdueled the likes of veteran pros Greg Krause of Littleton and Drew Miller of Flagstaff and collegiate rising star Howard Grotts of Durango.

That was then; this is now.

“Last year was especially fun,” Overend said this week in an interview with The Durango Herald.

“It’s always fun. But last year kind of took the pressure off,” he said after winning the Iron Horse road race for a record fifth time. He’ll go for a sixth victory today when the pro men leave the starting line from Durango High School.

Mara Abbott of Boulder can tie his mark of five victories in the pro women’s race today.

“I don’t really know how I’ll do,” said Overend, who just returned to Durango this week after spending time in California working with sponsors, including his trademark Specialized Bicycles.

“I haven’t raced this year, and I haven’t spent the time training like I did last year,” said Overend, who finished the 2011 50-mile race in 2 hours, 18 minutes and 54 seconds.

“I’ve been riding ... doing some group rides. And I’ve been getting my butt kicked pretty good by the Durango guys. But there are some good Durango guys,” Overend said. “So, we’ll see.”

He said a number of young challengers and veterans, including previous winner Rolando Gonzalez of Durango, should press for a good race Saturday.

“Howard (Grotts) and Rotem (Ishay) have been riding well,” said Overend, who also mentioned young Boulder riders Adam and Yannick Eckman.

Grotts, 20, is just back from mountain bike racing for Specialized in Europe, including a U23 World Cup where he finished 23rd.

Ishay is coming off the road racing season for Fort Lewis College where he rode on the national championship time trial team earlier this month.

“Rolando’s been riding really well. He’s looking good,” Overend said of the 2006 champion. He said Krause and Miller consistently bring top form to the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

“It’s a climber’s race and a high altitude race,” said Ishay, the FLC veteran and pro rider with Jamis Bicycle. He finished ninth in the road race last year.

Ishay said some ground can be made up on the descents, like Overend showed last year. But, he added, most of the pro road racers will handle the descents without gaining or losing much time.

“It’s a really specific race ... for climbers at high altitude,” said Ishay, the two-time reigning Israeli national mountain bike champion.

“Climbers all can climb. But there is a difference to how people respond at high altitude,” Ishay said.

Overend showed his adaptation to altitude early in his career – he won the high-altitude Imogene Pass Run and the Kendall Mountain Run multiple times in the 1980s.

Overend won his first Iron Horse in 1983, then won back-to-back in 1986-87 and again in ’92.

After Saturday’s ride out through the valley, Ishay said the road race will take shape once it starts uphill.

After the first warmup on Shalona Hill, the racing seriously will start after the cyclists leave Durango Mountain Resort – the finish line for the Quarter Horse – and start the climb up Coal Bank Pass, Ishay said.

“The two passes. That’s where the decisive moments are,” he said.

Last year, Overend managed to cling to the back wheel of a charging Grotts when the race turned up Coal Bank. Likewise, Overend prevented a break on the climb up Molas Pass.

From there, it’s all downhill.

“Howard’s more experienced on the road this year,” Overend said of the Durango DEVO alumnus and current FLC cyclist. “He’s on ... faster equipment, more aerodynamic wheels. That will help him. For Howard, it’s how the European travel has affected him.”

Overend and Grotts also are scheduled to compete in the Iron Horse mountain bike race and the Iron Horse King of the Mountain competition. The King of the Mountain will combine the road race and mountain bike finish times. Overend is the defending King of the Mountain champion and Carmen Small the Queen.

The mountain bike race is Sunday in downtown Durango.

There also will be the traditional road omnium competition that will include Sunday’s criterium and Monday’s individual time trial. Krause is the two-time reigning men’s omnium champion.

dstrode@ durangoherald.com

“Deadly Nedly” Overend won the Iron Horse road race in 2011 at age 55, reaching deep into his arsenal of experience with a high-speed tactical descent on the race that’s known for its climbing challenges over Coal Bank and Molas passes. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo

“Deadly Nedly” Overend won the Iron Horse road race in 2011 at age 55, reaching deep into his arsenal of experience with a high-speed tactical descent on the race that’s known for its climbing challenges over Coal Bank and Molas passes.

Rotem Ishay, the two-time defending Israeli national mountain bike champion, is coming off the road racing season for Fort Lewis College where he rode on the national championship time trial team earlier this month. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Rotem Ishay, the two-time defending Israeli national mountain bike champion, is coming off the road racing season for Fort Lewis College where he rode on the national championship time trial team earlier this month.

Greg Krause has won the last two Iron Horse Bicycle Classic omnium titles but never has won the signature road race. Hall of Fame cyclist Ned Overend, who has won a record five, including last year’s at age 55, says this could be Krause’s year. Enlarge photo

Steve Lewis/Durango Herald file photo

Greg Krause has won the last two Iron Horse Bicycle Classic omnium titles but never has won the signature road race. Hall of Fame cyclist Ned Overend, who has won a record five, including last year’s at age 55, says this could be Krause’s year.