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National broadcaster began prolific announcing career with Iron Horse Bicycle Classic

Peter Graves was a student at Fort Lewis College when he discovered his talent for calling sports events
Race organizer Peter Graves, still a Fort Lewis College student, presents a trophy and plaque to 1974 Iron Horse winner John Timbers. (Courtesy of Peter Graves, via John Peel and Iron Horse Bicycle Classic)

Peter Graves showed up in Durango, sight unseen, in August 1970. A freshman from Bennington, Vermont, he arrived at Fort Lewis College to cross-country ski for coach Dolph Kuss.

Graves not only ended up playing a major role in the early success of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, but became one of the nation’s premier venue and television outdoor sports announcers.

About this series

This year marks the 50th running of the annual Durango-to-Silverton race pitting bikes against train. Ed Zink, who promoted and fostered the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic from the start in 1972, died in October 2019. He was eagerly anticipating the 50th anniversary, and this Memorial Day weekend’s festival is being held in his memory.

In conjunction with the Iron Horse organizing committee and as part of its 50th celebration, former Durango Herald writer and editor John Peel put together a series of stories looking back at the race and ride’s history. These stories and more were compiled in a book, “Iron Horse Bicycle Classic 50th Anniversary: Looking Back, Racing Forward.”

He broadcast cross-country and biathlon skiing events during the Olympics for ABC. Those into mountain biking will know him from his work since the 1990s as stadium announcer and ESPN broadcaster. The list balloons from there, but chances are good you’ve heard his voice somewhere, perhaps in Durango – during the 1990 World Mountain Bike Championships, and 2001 World Cup mountain bike race, for instance.

He’s now “retired,” but that only means his schedule has been reduced. Recently, Graves has been public address announcer at a World Cup ski race in Vail and for road cycling at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Graves had hoped to make it back to Durango for the 50th running of the Iron Horse, but hip surgery forced a change of plans as he recuperates in his Thetford, Vermont, home.

“Durango holds a very, very special place in my heart,” he said.

Why is Durango so special? It started with Kuss, a “terrific coach” who pushed the athletes hard. Off-season training included roller-skiing, running and road cycling. It wasn’t easy to keep up. Training partners included not only FLC teammates, but members of the U.S. Nordic combined team, which Kuss coached. Some of each were Olympians.

Graves believes it was 1971 or 1972 when he brought his road bike back to Durango from Vermont. He struck up a friendship with Ed Zink, owner of The Outdoorsman. For the 1973 Iron Horse, Zink talked to Graves, an FLC junior, about taking a role as organizer.

“He was boss, but he asked me to be race director,” Graves recalled. “Of course, I was over my head.”

From the May 27, 1973, Durango Herald, five young riders pose next to the train they were about to race. From left are Bruce Cunningham, Pat Miller, Clint McAuliffe, Bill Wenger and Peter Graves. Race bikes run as much as $600, the story said.

He had to coordinate with the Chamber of Commerce and law enforcement, as well as dealing with race entries. He was quoted in The Durango Herald about race details, including the fact that helmets were now required. Part of the challenge was luring riders from California and the Four Corners states.

“It grew little by little. I did it for a few years and it was just a fantastic experience,” Graves said. “The cachet, of course, was riding against the train. That was a very unusual thing at that time, and it still is.

“One year I rode it but abandoned, as they say, somewhere up on Coal Bank Pass. The rest of the time I was promoting it.”

Graves knew he was not going to be a skiing star, so his focus turned more toward journalism and announcing. In 1974, he was part of a KDGO-AM broadcasting duo for the Iron Horse. Coach Kuss was one of his biggest advocates.

“Dolph was really encouraging with my announcing. ‘This is something you’re really good at and you ought to stay with it,’” Graves said. “I took his advice.”

After graduation in 1975, Graves took a job as news director at Durango’s KIUP-AM for a year. He learned to write for radio, and it was a good training ground. He also worked as a “stringer” for ABC affiliate KOAT in Albuquerque. He shot video for KOAT during the Iron Horse and sent it on a Trailways bus to Albuquerque.

Graves is proud of his “small role” in Iron Horse history, and thankful for his relationship with Zink.

“It couldn’t have been done without Ed,” Graves said. “He was just terrific and he was very humble. When Ed passed away (in 2019), I was deeply saddened.”

Graves went on to an impressive announcing career that now includes 13 Olympics. It all began in Durango.

“I cut my teeth in Durango and never stopped,” she said.

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