Meet ‘the new generation’

20-year-old Australian and Boulder cyclist dominates the 2012 edition

Australian Lachlan Morton, who lives in Boulder, celebrated victory Saturday as the man believed to be the youngest winner ever of the men’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. The 20-year-old Morton finished in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds, then was followed across the finish line by an 18-year-old and another 20-year-old. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Australian Lachlan Morton, who lives in Boulder, celebrated victory Saturday as the man believed to be the youngest winner ever of the men’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. The 20-year-old Morton finished in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds, then was followed across the finish line by an 18-year-old and another 20-year-old.

SILVERTON

Make way for the new generation.

Just one year after Durango’s 55-year-old Ned Overend turned back the clock by winning the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race, a new wave of 20-somethings and teenagers stepped forward Saturday in the annual race from Durango to Silverton.

Lachlan Morton, an Australian who lives in Boulder, won the 2012 men’s pro road race at age 20, believed to be the youngest winner ever, according to race officials.

Yannick Eckmann, a native of Germany who lives in Boulder, finished second.

Eckmann is 18.

Nate Wilson, a Virginia native who lives in Boulder, finished third.

He’s 20.

Throw in 19-year-old Robin Eckmann, Yannick’s brother, in fifth place and Durango’s Howard Grotts (age 20) in sixth.

“That’s the new generation of the Iron Horse,” race director Gaige Sippy said after the 19- and 20-year-olds took five of the top six places Saturday.

All five finished faster than Overend’s winning time of 2 hours, 18 minutes from a year ago.

Morton crossed the finish line in Silverton in 2 hours, 11 minutes, 30 seconds, almost 3 minutes ahead of Yannick Eckmann (2:13:54).

“I did this race a couple of years ago when I was younger and a bit less patient,” the 20-year-old winner said.

“I did the same thing those three guys did,” Morton said of a futile three-rider breakaway that started when the cyclists still were in the Durango city limits.

Yannick Eckmann joined Ben Blaugrund of Boulder and Mark Aasmundstad of Flagstaff, Ariz., in the early break that took shape as the riders headed into the Animas Valley.

“It was almost a mirror image,” said Morton, who rode comfortably in the peloton until the steep climbing started on Coal Bank Pass, just north of Durango Mountain Resort.

“This is a short race, but you really have to respect the altitude here,” said Morton, who recently returned from racing in France with his Garmin development team (Team Chipotle-First Solar).

“With the altitude, when you take your chance, you have to make the most of the opportunity,” he said.

Morton saw his opportunity after the peloton rounded the big curve at Cascade Creek with the three-rider breakaway some 3 minutes ahead.

“As soon as we hit the bottom (of Coal Bank Pass), I started to ramp it up,” he said of a move to spread the chase peloton.

He immediately worked ahead with the help of Grotts, who had led the chase group to that point.

Morton bridged up to the three leaders with Grotts in tow, and he pedaled into the lead.

Morton was the first to the top of Coal Bank Pass.

After the rocket descent, he was the first to gain the summit of Molas Pass, too.

“I ... saved for the last mile to the top, then I used the rest of my legs,” Morton said. “I was hanging on for dear life on the downhill.”

Grotts, just back from European mountain bike racing, climbed to the top of Molas in second place.

But the road warriors – including the Eckmanns, Wilson, and Aasmundstad – chased down the diminutive Grotts on the downhill run into Silverton.

Yannick Eckmann and Aasmundstad, two members of the original breakaway, held on for top-five finishes.

“I wanted to get as much time (as possible) on the flats (through the Animas Valley),” Eckmann said of the early move.

“I wanted to stay away as long as possible, and then when they catch us, I ... wanted to hang on and at least get a top-10 finish.”

Eckmann said he tried to climb with Morton after the Australian took the race lead.

“I tried to stay with him ... but he’s world class. He’s so strong,” Eckmann said of his fellow Boulder resident, who’s done extensive international racing this year.

Still, Eckmann said he climbed better than he expected, putting himself in good position on the final downhill.

“Down the hill, I can go fast,” he said. “I don’t have any fears really.”

He finished second in his second IHBC road race.

Aasmundstad, an amateur, said he was thrilled to be part of a breakaway in a prestigious race like the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.

“It hurt quite a bit, but it was fun,” Aasmundstad said. “That was the objective ... racing.”

He said he was more than pleased with his fourth-place finish amid the new generation of Iron Horse competitors, including the 2012 winner.

“That was ... great. That Garmin guy (Morton) was really, really good,” Aasmundstad said. “His tempo was incredible.”

Grotts, a product of the Durango DEVO junior program and a current Fort Lewis College cyclist, also marveled at Morton’s ride Saturday.

“There was no contest with Morton,” Grotts said. “He just rode away from us (Saturday).”

Grotts said Morton and the Eckmanns were tough going up and coming down.

“I caught up with them on Molas after they had dropped me on the Coal Bank descent,” Grotts said.

“I got a little gap at the top of Molas (in second place),” he said. “But then, they just blew by me. That’s still something I need to work on ... the descents.”

Overend, who slipped past Grotts on the downhill to win last year, finished 10th Saturday in spite of limited race training before this year’s ride.

“I could tell down in the valley I couldn’t do much (Saturday),” said Overend, who still finished 2 minutes faster than he did as a winner in 2011.

“I just tried to keep the peloton pace up,” said the 56-year-old who has won the Iron Horse road race a record five times.

Overend and Grotts will turn to the Iron Horse mountain bike race today.

Iron Horse omnium competitors will take to the criterium today in downtown Durango.

dstrode@ durangoherald.com