Iron Horse

It had to have been a difficult decision, but the organizers of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic did the right thing in moving the finish line of the road race from Silverton to Purgatory. As much fun as the race is for so many people – and as important as it is to Durango and Silverton – it is not worth putting lives at risk.

They were also right to pull the plug Friday and not try to put off the decision until race day. To have postponed making the call until Saturday would have been unfair to the racers who have to plan and prepare for the actual contest, not just a generic bike ride.

The simple fact is, weather happens in Colorado. It is actually remarkable that the Iron Horse race has not been affected more often. The race was canceled because of weather in 2008, and it was similarly shortened to finish at Purgatory in 1997.

But what must have been on the organizers’ minds was what happened in 1995 when riders had to be evacuated after getting caught by a snowstorm and stranded between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass. A number of them were treated for hypothermia and two were hospitalized.

A recurrence of a situation like that could be all the more worrisome given the way the race has developed. Saturday’s Iron Horse included 168 professional riders, men and women, as well as more than 1,500 people riding in the Citizens Tour.

The pros are typically young adults, amazingly fit and well-equipped both with gear and support. Participants in the Citizens Tour – who ride the same course and distance – come in all ages, shapes and sizes. Judging from the names, the list probably includes husbands and wives or other family combinations. They certainly came not only from all over Colorado but from across the country. And while all are no doubt serious riders, many are also from places considerably lower, flatter and warmer than Coal Bank or Molas.

There was no reason to put any of them at risk.

The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic runs into these situations from time to time because of the same climate and terrain that make it a challenging race over a breathtaking route. Anyone with experience in and around mountains respects them – and the weather associated with them. Things can change quickly and unexpectedly. And with that, weather forecasts have to be taken seriously. That they are notoriously difficult to do with precision is just another reason to err on the side of caution.

Imagine the first contingent of more than 1,700 bicyclists racing down the grade into Silverton. Then add the potential for snow on the road or reduced visibility or rain or high winds. There are too many things that can go wrong in that scenario, and there is little countervailing benefit to risking it.

No one wants to see the Iron Horse truncated or canceled. But in this case, shortening it was the right call.

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