The dirt called on a day when the asphalt typically rules the cycling world in Durango and Silverton.
With the 49th edition of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no road race or Citizen’s Tour ride from Durango to Silverton on Saturday morning. But, on a perfect spring day in Southwest Colorado, the love of two-wheel thrills had mountain bike trails bustling.
Still, dozens made the annual ascent of U.S. Highway 550 out of Durango toward Silverton. By noon Saturday, roughly 50 well-spaced cyclists were on the road, a manageable number and the kind of scene Colorado State Patrol and the San Juan County Sheriff was hopeful to see.
Many cyclists took the opportunity to start from further up the highway near Purgatory Resort. Others started in Durango and completed only a traditional Quarter Horse ride that finished at Purgatory. Others, such as 19-year-old Aidan Rhodes of Flagstaff, Arizona, continued their ride from Durango all the way to Ouray and back.
“It’s absolutely beautiful,” Rhodes said. “This would have been my second Iron Horse. I raced it last year with some of my teammates. It’s too bad not to be doing it this year. But I saw some of Durango’s local pros like Payson McElveen, who did a ride to Ouray and back a few weeks ago, so I figured I’d attempt the same feat today.”
Rhodes was one of a handful or riders from Arizona who had come up for a road ride. Most were local to Durango.
Rhodes is a junior mountain biker and has spent the last few weeks in Durango for a training block. He left Durango at 8 a.m., the typical start time for the Citizen’s Tour, and didn’t run into many others as he climbed Coal Bank and Molas passes.
“People were staying pretty far apart,” he said of cyclists’ social distancing practices. “I only saw about four riders since hitting 550, and that’s about it.”
Though the mountain passes remained open to motorist traffic – they are usually closed from Purgatory to Silverton during the IHBC – the traffic was noticeably light for a holiday weekend, making it easier for motorists and cyclists to share the road. No groups of more than two cyclists were spotted riding together.
As for McElveen, the 2016 IHBC road race champion, he was busy on his mountain bike seeking an “Everesting” challenge on the Jones Creek singletrack climb outside of Durango as part of Rebecca Rusch’s “Giddy Up for Good” benefit for COVID-19 relief. The goal was to ride the same amount of elevation gain as the height of Mount Everest, 29,029 feet. Each lap of his climb was roughly 1,500 feet.
Durango pro road cyclist Quinn Simmons had pedaled out of Durango on Friday on what he has called the “Rona Escape Tour,” a bike packing trip across Colorado. His first “stage” took him from Durango to Norwood. On Saturday, he continued to Grand Junction.
Many other pros resorted to lesser known mountain roads as a way to get out and avoid any potentially overcrowded areas.
Those were a few of the ways cyclists found a way to and challenge themselves on a weekend typically full of excitement in Durango and Silverton around the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic.