Nobody said the new course was going to be easy. And nobody should have counted out the old champion.
Durango’s Stephan Davoust, 26, made a move on the last of three laps Sunday during a grueling 27-mile mountain bike race at the 49th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to hold off rising star Riley Amos, 19, and claim his second consecutive IHBC pro men’s mountain bike title.
“I think I’m right up there with all the top guys and trying to prove it every time I get the chance,” Davoust said.
After three climbs of the Telegraph and Cuchillo trails in the Horse Gulch trail system, Davoust broke away on the final climb and descent of Cuchillo to win in 2 hours, 8 minutes, 14 seconds. That was 1:03 ahead of Amos at the finish at Durango Mesa Park.
Known as a smart bike racer, Davoust paced himself well to be ready to seize the race.
“Riley and I were talking mid-race about how much different this is from the (cross-country) stuff we’ve been doing earlier this season with short, punchy stuff,” Davoust said. “Going over Telegraph three times, then you get off Telegraph and have to climb Cuchillo three times. It’s longer, sustained climbs, and you have to be as consistent and smooth in every opportunity possible.
“I was doing my best to ride my own race. I sat in the wind a bit more, but being efficient wherever I could paid off. That last lap, I attacked the last couple hundred yards over Cuchillo and got like 10 seconds, and then I just rode as smooth as I could down the descent all the way back. Coming into the finish, my legs were cramping and I couldn’t see straight anymore, but I got it to the line.”
Amos had won the IHBC pro men’s road race from Durango to Silverton a day earlier in a draining effort to come from behind while climbing Coal Bank and Molas passes to reel in a breakway rider three minutes up the road. His first place in the road race and second in Sunday’s mountain bike gave him IHBC King of the Mountain honors with 49 points.
“It’s been a great two days. This mountain bike race was a lot more of a mental battle for me than the road race,” Amos said. “I suffered, suffered, suffered out there. I don’t remember the last time I hurt that bad in a bike race, but I wasn’t going to give up for that King of the Mountain. I was so excited to race the Iron Horse this year.”
Only 19 and already a silver medalist in a men’s under-23 UCI World Cup mountain bike race two weeks earlier in the Czech Republic, Amos was favored in Sunday’s mountain bike race even after Saturday’s energy expenditure.
The grueling climbs up a course made up of mostly singletrack trails took a toll on all the riders, and Amos was one of many who struggled to deal with 83 degree temperatures in direct sunlight paired with gusty winds on a blue sky afternoon in Durango.
“I am so done,” Amos said after the race. “I had a hard first lap. Like I usually do, I went all-out the first lap. Then, I hit a bit of a wall, and the second lap was damage control from there. (Davoust) kept such a hard pace and absolutely flew on the downhills. It was all I could do to hold his wheel on the downhills.
“(Davoust) is such a good guy and always has such a good attitude. He’s riding super well this year, and I couldn’t be more stoked to take second to him. When he went hard on the gas, my vision was closing and I fully came apart. He looked back and saw me two bike lengths back and quick hit it to make sure I couldn’t hold on any longer.”
Durango’s Howard Grotts, a 2016 mountain bike Olympian, three-time Leadville 100 winner and multi-time IHBC mountain bike race winner, would finish fourth in 2:15:17, as 18-year-old Robbie Day of Evergreen passed him on the last lap to take third in 2:13:12.
Grotts said he wasn’t fully prepared for how hot of a day it was going to be a day after he was third in the road race. He thanked Day for giving him an extra gel during the race to bring him back to life.
“That was a crazy race,” Grotts said. “The combination of the new course and 80-plus degree day, and tailwinds on the climbs makes it feel even hotter. It was just a tough day of racing. (Amos) on the first lap, he took off. Then (Davoust), he was clearly on a mission today. I tried and realized pretty quickly that my pace is not theirs right now. It was a battle of attrition, and I was super stoked to see (Davoust) take the win.”
The race saw 45 riders start and 33 finish all three laps. The top 15 was loaded with Durango riders. Henry Nadell was fifth in 2:15:57, Todd Wells was sixth in 2:16:42 and Rotem Ishay was seventh in 2:18:24.
Davoust credited his fitness work with Ishay for helping him prevail once more in the IHBC mountain bike race as well as his win a month earlier at the Soldier Hollow Bike Festival in Utah, where he claimed his first UCI points race victory.
“I’ve been training hard and staying focused,” Davoust said. “The snow in the mountains is melting, so I’m not skiing so much and pretty focused on the bike. Working with Rotem has made a huge difference, and it’s paying off.”
Unsure if he was going to do the road race Saturday, Davoust was the last rider to register for the event Friday. He would finish eighth, 4:04 behind Amos’ winning time. Davoust did it on a road bike he borrowed from former Fort Lewis College cycling teammate Cormac McGeough, and he used parts from another friend’s bike to build it up to fit him. It was the kind of experience one can only get from a hometown race as special as the IHBC.
While Amos will leave next week for another round of UCI World Cup racing in Austria, Davoust will remain in Durango to prepare for the upcoming mountain bike national championships in Winter Park. Though retired from full-time pro mountain bike racing, the 28-year-old Grotts also plans to race nationals this year along with another Leadville 100 in August.
“All things considered, I am super happy with this weekend, and I hope it’s an upward trajectory from here,” Grotts said.
With the 50th IHBC now one year away, Davoust is also ready to go into next year’s mountain bike race as a two-time defending champion.
“It puts more pressure on it, but either way it’s always a fun time coming out,” Davoust said. “No matter what year it is, the Iron Horse is a great event. I can’t wait to see what everyone has going on for the 50th anniversary. It’s going to be pretty special, and I’m already looking forward to it.”