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Iron Horse Bicycle Classic brings new event to bolster iconic weekend in 2024

Inaugural Hill Climb Challenge takes place on Friday
The women's peloton in the 2021 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race makes its way up to Silverton. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file photo)

One of Durango’s most famous events is back this weekend. The 2024 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic is back for its 52nd year with a new event to go along with the classic road race to Silverton on Saturday.

The weekend will kick off with the new Hill Climb Challenge on Friday. Riders participating in the road race, gravel race and mountain bike races have the chance to ride a lap or two up East 8th Avenue and try and get the best time up the hardest part of the Fort Lewis College front hill.

Race Director Ian Burnett said the Hill Climb Challenge came together as the staff wanted to come up with something different and inclusive. Burnett said it’s something the average rider and racer can do compared to other events that are elite and invite only. Burnett and the rest of the staff wanted an event that brings the community out on Friday night to enjoy the event and Durango.

Riders can try and qualify for the top 16 times in the men’s and women’s field between 1-5:30 p.m. From 6-6:15 the top 16 will race in groups of eight to try and make it to the finals at 6:45 p.m.

There will be a cash prize for the top five finishers in both the men’s and women’s finals.

“Overall, our biggest thing is leaning on our laurels of the tour and the road race being our main focus of time,” Burnett said. “Then continuing to have diverse offerings between the Friday Hillclimb, we did a short track last year and just offering some other things that keep people coming back, keep it exciting, engaging and fun. We invite more racers to come back but also invite the community to come out and join in a celebration in town.”

The star of the show will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday. The Coca-Cola Road Race is the competitive main event and will begin this year at 33rd Street and 2nd Avenue. The 47-mile citizen road race will have four official support stations throughout the course with some Tailwind Nutrition products, cookies, bananas, chips and other snacks.

After starting at 6,512 feet in Durango, riders will travel through Hermosa and past Purgatory before facing Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass at over 10,000 feet at the top of each of those passes. After getting through Molas Pass the race ends in Silverton at 9,318 feet.

Riders must be past Coal Bank Pass by 12:40 p.m. and Molas Pass by 1:20 p.m. or riders will be pulled from the race for safety reasons as the highway between Purgatory and Silverton is only closed until 1:30 p.m.

The McDonald’s Citizen Tour will start at 8 a.m. also at 33rd Street and 2nd Avenue. Burnett said both races are starting at the same spot because of the need of the community to not have as big of an impact as it once did. It also helps law enforcement make the event a safe transaction for everyone.

Burnett said it was big for the Iron Horse staff to have a start place where the Citizen Tour will start with the train going past.

“That day is just a special day to get to ride that 50 miles and ride it on the closed highway and do something that has gone on for such a long time and has a pretty cool energy,” Burnett said. “Especially for those people that are just trying to get there and want to check that bucket list item off.”

Burnett expects about 2,000 racers to compete to the finish in Silverton. He said about 1,200 of those will be Citizen Tour racers and 600 will be the Coke road racers.

Iron Horse legend Ned Overend is racing again and should be at the front of the pack. Durangoan Lauren Aggeler is signed up to compete in the women’s race. Burnett said he’d probably see some other notable names pop up in the late registration on Friday.

At 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, the Alpine Bank La Strada LaPlata Gravel Race will begin. Riders will climb 4,985 feet along the 55-mile course. It has a combination of dirt roads and paved roads.

The race will start and finish at Chapman Hill. Riders will go down 3rd Avenue, up Horse Gulch Road and loop around Texas Creek to the East before heading back West to Horse Gulch Road and finishing at Chapman Hill.

At 9 a.m. the first wave of the Subaru Mountain Bike Race will kick off at Chapman Hill. Burnett said it’s the same 5-mile loop as last year that goes up Lions Den, around Fort Lewis down Chapman Hill and into the flow trail.

The mountain bikers will be broken up into three waves, with the first wave consisting of kids and men over 55 and women over 45 around 9 a.m. The second wave will be junior men and women ages 15-18 and men between the ages of 35-54 and women between the age of 35-44 around 11:30 a.m. The final wave will kick off at 2 p.m. with the open pro men’s and women’s field followed by men and women ages 19-34.

“It’s been the hub of racing in Durango for a long time,” Burnett said about Chapman Hill. “The mid- to late-80s into the 90s when mountain biking was really kicking off, a lot of it was centered around Chapman. So it’s an homage to that and the history that we have with Chapman and being a race venue.”

Burnett said he wouldn’t be surprised if Todd Wells and Howard Grotts enter the field. He also said so far there are 200 people in the mountain bike race and about 215 people in the gravel race.

While the racing is going on, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the Chapman Hill Cycling Festival will be happening with some vendors, coffee and local beer. Burnett described it as a gathering place to enjoy what Durango offers.

Online registration is now closed but Iron Horse will have on-site registration at Chapman Hill from 1 to 7 p.m. on Friday