Fifty miles, thousands of feet of climbing and descending, alpine mountains all around and a historic coal-powered train racing you to the end.
This is the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Durango, Colorado. Every Memorial Day weekend thousands of cyclists roll into town for a weekend of racing, touring, spectating, food and fun.
In its 46th year, this is one of the most celebrated road cycling events in the United States. A race and tour, the IHBC takes riders from beautiful Durango 50 miles north, up and down two mountain passes at just under 11,000 feet above sea level. With steep grades and 6,000 feet of climbing all in all, it’s a grind all the way to the historic mining town of Silverton, save a few thousand feet of lightning fast winding downhill on a closed course. Medics are standing by.
“You have everything,” said champion cyclist Carmen Small. “The flat through the valley and the two mountain passes. When you’re up at 10,000 feet and above it’s pretty challenging. Pretty epic.”
Thousands of cyclists roll up next to the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Saturday morning. The pros have their day first, a who’s who of cycling battling it out to the finish, but for mortals, when the whistle blows it’s on.
And so is Mother Nature. Spring weather in the Rockies is up to her. A sunny start in town can – and often does - leads to inclement weather higher up on Coal Bank and Molas passes.
“May weather to June weather is always challenging,” said race director Gaige Sippy. Weather is such a concern Sippy brings on his own meteorologist for second-by-second pinpoint forecasts.
On Sunday back in Durango, after the road racing is done, mountain bikers head out on some of the manicured singletrack that makes the town famous, with a few passes in odd places, like directly through Steamworks Brewing Company.
And the crowd loves it.
“The crowds are great,” Small said. “It’s pretty incredible: who comes out and the community support. The streets are lined.”