For most of the country, Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial start of summer, and Durango is no exception. Here, though, there is a parallel iconic event that kicks off the season: the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.
The weekend of events, anchored by the road race against the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, is in its 42nd year, and through the decades, its offerings have expanded to bring something for everyone, cyclists and fans alike. For those not interested in a 50-mile trek over two mountain passes topping out at more than 10,000 feet in elevation before descending into Silverton, there are a range of options for professional racers, mere mortal cyclists, casual bike riders, runners, swimmers and kids. This afternoon, the Narrow Horse swim, a 1,500-meter event that will kick off a weekend-long triathlon, takes place at the Durango Community Recreation Center. The main-event ride to Silverton departs at 8 a.m. Saturday, with a companion Quarter Horse race to Durango Mountain Resort. Sunday morning is the 36th annual Narrow Gauge 10-miler, a running event with accompanying 5K road and 15k trail runs.
A mountain-bike race on Sunday will bring riders on a tour of some of Durango’s finest close-in trails, and two downtown criterium courses – for serious and more whimsical riders, respectively – will offer cyclists and observers an afternoon of entertainment and a kids’ race will begin the day’s cycling events at 8 a.m.
This colorful palette of athletic opportunities will unfold against the picturesque background of Durango and its environs in their late-spring finest. Weather forecasts are calling for sunny skies and warm temperatures – something that Iron Horse veterans know is far from a guarantee for Memorial Day weekend. All factors are aligning for a fun-filled weekend of activity, competition and community.
There also is a bittersweet element to the Iron Horse event, because its director, Gaige Sippy, will step down after six years at the helm. Sippy’s mark on the Iron Horse has been significant and will endure long past his run as its leader. He introduced the Quarter Horse, time trial and mountain-bike events, and in so doing, dramatically increased participation numbers: from 2,800 to 4,000. The corresponding enthusiasm each of those events draws from participants’ friends, families and general-interest fans adds energy to the overall weekend, while connecting the Durango community to those from which participants originate. Sippy’s legacy starts with cycling but extends far beyond the sport.
The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has traveled quite a distance since its inception 42 years ago when brothers Tom and Jim Mayer – the latter a D&SNG brakeman; the former a cyclist – levied a wager that Tom’s bike could beat Jim’s train to Silverton. The foundation, though, remains intact as the event has evolved. We welcome the Iron Horse and all those who are here to participate and enjoy the weekend.