All eyes were on local rider Todd Wells to see if he could win his first Iron Horse Bicycle Classic men’s road race.
It was a different Wells, however, who was first to the finish line – Todd Wells’ younger brother Troy Wells.
Troy Wells won the 43rd IHBC professional men’s road race with an unofficial time of 1 hour, 19 minutes, 13 seconds. The race was shortened from its usual 47-mile trek to Silverton to a 26.5-mile sprint to the top parking lot of Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort. Race organizers made the decision to shorten the race after snow fell on top of Coal Bank Pass late Friday afternoon.
Troy Wells narrowly edged 58-year-old and five-time IHBC road race champion Ned Overend, a Specialized teammate of the Wells brothers.
“Man, it is awesome. Normally I’m like not in great form for this race, but this year I’m climbing well,” the 29-year-old Troy Wells said. “It is a good day. I wish it went to Silverton, but really this finish here is probably better for me. Less super-high altitude climbing.”
Overend finished a bike’s length behind Troy Wells. The IHBC record-holder was happy to see one of the riders in his group come away with the title.
“He was climbing great, too – strongest guy in the race the whole time,” Overend said of Troy Wells. “The most aggressive and strong in the flat and the climbs. I haven’t seen him ride that well in the mountains.
“It is good. If it wasn’t me, it was Troy or Todd, and I’m sure Todd is happy to see (Troy) win, too.”
Todd Wells, who crossed the line with a top-10 finish, was elated to see his younger brother cross the line in first place as an Iron Horse champion.
“It is great for him. He works really hard and has had a lot of bad luck, so it is nice to see him win,” said Todd Wells, a three-time Olympic mountain biker and 11 years Troy’s elder. “Troy was really strong all day.”
Troy Wells, who rides and trains with Overend, the captain of the Specialized cross country team, said it felt great to edge his friend at the finish line.
“I’m so used to Ned putting me away every Tuesday night (at our local community rides). It is good to even just be able to ride with him,” said Troy Wells, a member of the Team Clif Bar mountain bike team.
Troy Wells said the main group of riders in contention to win broke away from the peloton at Shalona Hill, the first real climb of the day.
“Todd and me were together through Glacier Club, and then on Haviland I had a pretty good gap, and Ned came across. I saw (Overend) coming and waited for him, and then we just worked together,” Troy Wells said. “We didn’t really know where the finish line was up here, so it was like a mystery finish. If we had known exactly where it was, it might have been different, but we kind of just rode steady until we saw the banner, then I started getting my sprint.”
Overend and Troy Wells gained a big gap ahead of the next six riders behind them, which included defending champion Kip Turner and his High Desert Bicycles team out of Albuquerque.
Every time Taylor and his group would catch up to Troy Wells, Troy Wells would attack to regain a gap. Todd Wells did his best to keep the rest of the pack behind Overend and his brother once they established a dominant lead in the final miles.
“Troy and I got off out front together one time, and I couldn’t really help him. Kip and those guys towed the group back up to us, and Troy went out front again. When they caught up again, Ned went with Troy. Then, for me, I just sat in the group and made sure nobody got up to those guys again.”
Gage Hecht, a 16-year-old Parker cyclist, shocked the field by taking third place, outsprinting Taylor to the finish line.
Taylor took fourth place.
“It was a sprint with me and the 16-year-old after Ned and Troy Wells got away. Gage Hecht, the young guy, got me at the finish,” Taylor said.
Taylor said it was a bit of a bummer to return as the defending champion and not be able to race all the way to Silverton, but he agreed with the race organizers’ decision to shorten the race.
“When you see that weather they had (Friday), it makes you wonder about racing at all. The organizers made the right call, because those downhills could’ve been pretty dangerous.
“For me, the race turned into more having fun than really wanting to win the race. I knew guys would be (all-in) from the start, and that made it seem like a fun time rather than a real race.”
Todd and Troy Wells both will compete in the Iron Horse’s Fort Lewis College Mountain Bike Race at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning. Troy Wells hopes to finish first to secure a King of the Mountain title.
“Hopefully (Sunday) I have good legs again and I can make it happen out there,” said Troy Wells, who said the big part of his mountain bike race season is coming up in June and July. “We have a big block coming up in June and July with national championships and about eight mountain bike races in 10 weeks. This is a good way to start going into it, get some confidence.”
Overend, who last won an IHBC title in 2011 after winning his first title in 1983, has placed second more times than he can count. He fully plans on continuing his quest for title No. 6 next year.
“Coming close motivates me. If I start getting dropped, maybe I will ride a different classification,” Overend said. “Being in front, mixing it up, that’s exciting; it is motivating.”