After a two-year hiatus, one of the hottest fall cycling events is set to return.
Behind the work of new volunteer director Rick O’Block, the Durango Fall Blaze Bicycle Tour is set for Sept. 29. The event is a benefit for the Fort Lewis College cycling program, with 100 percent of net proceeds going toward FLC cycling scholarships.
O’Block, an avid cyclist who does radio for Fort Lewis College athletics when he’s not busy serving as the head of football officials in La Plata County, was on a bike ride with Steve Schwartz, the vice president of finance and administration at FLC, when Schwartz asked O’Block if he would bring back the Fall Blaze.
“I work closely with the college and know the financial difficulties, so I was like, ‘OK, I’ll do it,’” O’Block said.
The Fall Blaze will offer road rides of 37, 60 and 100 miles, and O’Block hopes to get 500 riders registered in total.
“If we can get 500, it will net pretty good money for FLC scholarships,” he said. “I don’t know all the expenses yet, but any net profits will go to FLC scholarships for students.
“For roadies, this is really the only other road event in town during the season other than the Iron Horse. It’s nice to give them one more event before putting the bike away for the season.”
The Fall Blaze is the biggest benefit event for FLC cycling. Its return has been celebrated by the program and the college, which has gotten behind the event with marketing efforts. O’Block also is partnering with Iron Horse Bicycle Classic director Gaige Sippy for more support.
“This is so impressive and honorable of Rick to want to help us out like this,” said FLC cycling director Dave Hagen. “In athletics, everyone knows him well from his commentating on football and basketball games and all that, and he’s a big sports fan, for sure.
“Really, the college has stepped up a lot to help with the Blaze now, too. They realize how important it is, and it’s really our only avenue for getting scholarships for the team.”
Every distance of the Fall Blaze will have a start and finish line at the famed clock tower on the FLC campus. There will be staggered start times by 30 minutes, with the goal of getting riders returning from their respective distances close enough to the same time to have a post-race party.
Riders on the 100-mile course will get a police escort from the college to U.S. Highway 550, then the riders will travel up Shalona Hill and return via East Animas before traveling out to Vallecito.
“It’s a great venue on a crisp morning without much traffic on the roads,” O’Block said. “And we will have a lot of pros in town riding with the riders. It will be a good ride.”
O’Block has secured the participation of Durango Olympic mountain biker Howard Grotts, who graduated from FLC. Grotts will be the face of the 2018 Fall Blaze.
“Who doesn’t like Howard Grotts? The guy is a gem in the world of professional sports,” O’Block said.
The event will fall two weeks after Todd’s Durango Dirt Fondo mountain bike event, giving road riders a fun fall option or another reason for some mountain bikers to keep their fitness level high going into the start of fall.
The cost of entry will be $80. Registration is open at www.fortlewis.edu/fallblaze. There will also be a registration party at 3 p.m. Sunday at Carver Brewing Co. in downtown Durango to also celebrate the conclusion of this weekend’s Squawker Classic road cycling race hosted by FLC.
“It’s great this is happening the same weekend along with the DEVO bike swap this weekend. It turned into a big weekend of cycling in mid-April,” Hagen said. “We’re looking forward to the party at Carver’s. It’s great to have this Fall Blaze back up and running, and it has a lot of new energy with Rick taking it over.”