Iron Horse road race shortened because of weather

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Rders race forward ahead of the steaming Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Riders during the McDonalds Citizens Tour in 2012 during the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic along U.S. 550. Enlargephoto

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald Rders race forward ahead of the steaming Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Riders during the McDonalds Citizens Tour in 2012 during the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic along U.S. 550.

The 43rd Iron Horse Bicycle Classic road race will be considerably shorter this year: Because of inclement weather in the forecast, race organizers decided to have the finish line moved from Silverton to Durango Mountain Resort.

“We have just made the official decision that we are going to finish at Durango Mountain Resort and will not go to Silverton,” said Ed Zink, IHBC founder and chairman of the race committee. “It is an agonizing decision because we believe in this race and know all the people prepared and have been working for months to do it.”

The finish line now will be placed at the upper parking lot at Purgatory Village at DMR.

Rain was in the forecast for much of the route. Organizers hoped the forecast might improve, but it didn’t. Rather than wait until the final minute to make a decision, they pulled the trigger Friday afternoon.

“We had overwhelming evidence that the weather was not going to get better. There is going to be snow, and it is not going to get better,” Zink said. “We cannot take the risk of taking people into a snowstorm.”

Zink remembers a horrifying situation in 1995 in which riders were stranded between Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass in a heavy snowstorm. Riders had to be evacuated, and many were treated for hypothermia. Two cyclists briefly were hospitalized.

“We don’t need to ever experience that again,” Zink said.

The race was shortened to a Purgatory finish in 1997 because of a heavy snow. In 2008, the race was canceled because of the weather.

Earlier in the week, Durango-based mountain biker Todd Wells joked that the last two times he registered for the road race, it was affected by snow. The streak now stands at three, as Wells registered for this year’s race; he joked that the jinx lives on.

“I think some people may be thanking me (Saturday) when they get to Purg and they will be done,” Wells said. “When it goes to Silverton, the race really started at Purgatory before Coal Bank Pass. Now, I think it will be an all-out sprint to the finish. At just 25 miles, I bet times come in under one hour.”

The race to Silverton was 47 miles; the race to Purgatory is 27 miles.

For Silverton, the race’s shortening was another blow on top of several that have already occurred. Red Mountain Pass was shut down by a rockslide in January for a month, and it’s been closed most of the daylight hours since late April for more work to stabilize the mountainside above U.S. Highway 550.

The highway closures have affected many Silverton businesses.

“It’s just another blow from Mother Nature,” Rose Raab, the outgoing executive director of the Silverton Chamber of Commerce, said Friday evening as she prepared a news release for chamber members about the Iron Horse decision.

“We’ve just had a series of unfortunate events. (Business owners) are going to be extremely disappointed.”

The Slverton parks staff spent all week readying Memorial Park, the finish area, with new playground equipment and a climbing rock, Raab said.

“Tell people to come,” she said. “If they can’t come on their bicycles maybe they can come in their cars.”

Zink said the race committee anguished for all of the people affected by the decision.

“We are crushed by it, and it is very difficult,” Zink said. “We’ve tried everything we could think of to find a way around it, but this is the only safe decision available to us. We anguish for the people who have spent months getting ready for this.”

jlivingston@durangoherald.com and johnp@durangoherald.com