Not even a full week has passed since Durango’s successful hosting performance for the high school mountain bike state championships. The same weekend, Fort Lewis College’s mountain bike team earned a second consecutive national title. Athletes and organizers are still in reflection of those accomplishments, but it’s hard not to look ahead to next year.
While it is yet to officially be announced, the Colorado High School Cycling League plans to bring the state championship event back to the Durango Mesa Park venue in October of 2019. Already announced is that Durango will play host to the 2019 USA Cycling College Mountain Bike National Championships at Purgatory Resort. It is possible that both events will once again fall on the same weekend. The collegiate event is set for Oct. 18-20. If the two events do fall on the same weekend, it could be the biggest weekend of cycling in Durango history, including the 47-year history of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic on Memorial Day weekend, the 1990 World Championships and the 2001 UCI World Cup event.
“We hope to have it in Durango next year, if they’ll have us,” Colorado League executive director Kate Rau said of the high school championships. “It’s going to be a big cycling hootenanny. Hopefully, with the race schedule split across two days, the kids can go up and see some of the collegiate racing and vice versa. It will be a big treat for both the kids and Fort Lewis riders and the mountain bike celebrities of Durango because they will get to see how the sport is spreading.”
The sport certainly has grown in the U.S. and across Colorado since Purgatory hosted the first International Cycling Union (UCI) World Championships in 1990. That year, Ned Overend won the first world title, and he’s been in Durango to watch the town continue to flourish as a mountain biking mecca with two Olympians in Todd Wells and Howard Grotts and numerous national champions and budding international stars across all age groups.
“Next year is going to be interesting,” said Overend, who volunteered as a course sweeper during last weekend’s high school event. “It’s maybe going to be bigger. Especially with the high school kids, there’s so much participation, you know? That’s more racers than even the world championships here I think. The collegiate fields are big, too. Some of the elite racers here, they do get a lot of exposure and a good amount of spectators, but what’s cool about collegiate and high school is the participation numbers are so big. It’s bigger than any event we have.”
This year, 822 high school riders qualified for the state championships, and they represented 67 schools. The league has grown each year, and more than 1,300 athletes competed during the regular season this year. A year ago, 620 kids participated at state, up from 561 in 2016. It is possible more than 900 athletes will qualify for state in 2019, and more teams are formed seemingly every year.
There were 51 collegiate teams represented at this year’s national championships in Missoula, Montana with roughly 400 competitors.
Durango has a chance to host more than 1,200 mountain bikers, their coaches, families and supporters next October during a traditional shoulder season for tourist activity in our mountain town. It’s big money for Durango businesses and a chance to attract future visitors, too.
“That is going to be real exciting for us,” FLC cycling director Dave Hagen said. “We can finally show off our team for the hometown crowd. There’s a lot of great energy going right now in this community. We will try to roll out the red carpet.”
There is a hope from many in the cycling community to split the events across two different weekends so each event can have its own weekend in the spotlight. While it might be a great opportunity for high school racers to witness the next level of mountain biking by having an opportunity to spectate collegiate nationals, it could create a bit of a logistical nightmare, especially for Fort Lewis College, which hosted campus tours and the awards banquet for high school riders this year.
“We’re hoping both parties can work together to make it so it’s not the same weekend,” Hagen said. “It would take some away from each other. They are both really marquee events that should standalone, as far as I see it.
“That would almost be too much cycling too many places. I don’t know what I’d do.”
Iron Horse Bicycle Classic director Gaige Sippy was integral in getting the high school championships to Durango and will again be a big player in next year’s event. He also would have a personal choice to make if both events fall on the same weekend next year, as his son, Ivan, will race for the Durango High School team after he placed third at this year’s freshman boys category race. His daughter, Camryn, also was a member of the Fort Lewis team for cross-country and short-track races at collegiate nationals this year as only a sophomore.
“I remember when the Fort Lewis program started, and it was a really a game changer as far as getting younger people here to ride their bike,” Sippy said. “Hagen and his crew built that culture that really Durango Devo was formed out of. To potentially watch both of those things taking place in one weekend, that much youth cycling on one weekend in our humble little town, it would be fantastic.”
Everyone involved in Durango’s cycling community has praised the world of Purgatory Resort owner James Coleman and Mountain Capital Partners mountain bike director Hogan Koesis for making mountain biking a priority at the mountain once again. The last big event at Purgatory was the 2001 World Cup, but cross-country racing was held in town with the start and finish line at Fort Lewis College’s football field, while the downhill events were held at Purgatory. All of next year’s collegiate nationals will be held at Purgatory, with a new cross-country course and a Pro Category 1 downhill course.
Koesis brought big-event experience with him when he was hired last spring. The company and was eager to host big events this year, but many of those were canceled because the 416 Fire did not allow for all the trail work to be completed. Now, the 2019 races are the priority, and Koesis is happy to be part of the excitement of Durango mountain biking.
“I love that these events are Durango centric,” Koesis said. “Durango is making recreational decisions and has embraced that cycling is real and helps during shoulder seasons. It’s great for the community.”
Sippy believes the two championship races could coexist on the same weekend next year with two different venues ready to be utilized. Even if the events are split across different weekends, there’s no doubt October 2019 will be a rocking time for mountain biking in Durango.
“It’s a chance to play in front of our home crowd for the first time really,” said FLC mountain bike coach and Durango Devo co-founder Chad Cheeney. “We can show them how much fun we are and how much fun the collegiate scene is in general. We’re all looking forward to playing host to all these other schools and showing them the added spice we have at our races and the Durango things we do.”
John Livingston is the sports editor at The Durango Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @jlivi2.