The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic is ready to return to Durango and Silverton this spring. The size of the event is still to be determined.
Like so many events in 2020, the IHBC was forced to cancel in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. After a nervous winter of planning for variations of a 2021 program, IHBC race director Gaige Sippy announced plans Monday for the 49th edition of the famed cycling event held Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s critical we have an event. Canceling altogether last year, it was the first time that happened in 48 years. Having to do it again this year would be devastating,” Sippy said. “Some things just don’t come back. We’ve seen it with other businesses in our town. It’s important to make a go, no matter how small, to get us back on track.
“Planning work continues every day, but we’ve come to the conclusion that we are going to, or at least going to try to, make sure we have an event Memorial Day weekend. We are going to scale it appropriately to meet COVID guidelines and protocols. We have spent a lot of time learning and reaching out to other events, talking to USA Cycling, the Bicycle Association of Colorado, San Juan Basin Public Health and Silverton to make sure we can fit this into the world we are living in right now so we don’t have to skip another year.”
This year’s races will be held May 29-30. The 50-mile road race along with the Citizen’s Tour ride from Durango to Silverton will be held as normal, though the total number of participants in those events will be greatly reduced from the normal 2,500. The Quarter Horse ride from Durango to Purgatory Resort also will be held.
Sippy said a virtual event is also being planned for those unable to get into the road events. He also noted the IHBC will once again become a USA Cycling sanctioned event, which will help the IHBC with its health protocols, insurance and give the organization access to a USA Cycling doctor.
After last year’s races were canceled, the IHBC offered a 30% refund to registered riders along with a 20% discount for 2021 registration.
Sippy said more information about 2021 registration is expected to be announced by March 15. Those who registered in 2020 will receive the first opportunity to sign up this year. If any spots remain open, the IHBC aims to open registration for those spots in mid-April.
“I don’t know how many participants we are going to ultimately end up with,” Sippy said. “The COVID dial will be a factor. The biggest concern will be how we get people started and how we manage them at the finish line so there is not a big congregation. We are going back to the 1980s a bit. It will be an event much more similar in size to what we did back then than what we have done in the last 10 to 15 years. It will be cycling-only events with no festivals, no ancillary events and much more scaled back in terms of number of participants in the road events.
“It’s making a hard-to-plan event harder. We are going to come up with types of money-back guarantees based on how close to the event we are if we have to cancel for any reason. It will satisfy most but never all.”
Sippy said the start line for the road events will be moved out of downtown Durango and onto 33rd Street and spread across eight to nine blocks to allow for social distancing. There will be no party in Silverton at the finish line. There also will not be a veterans train this year going from Durango to Silverton, and cyclists will have to arrange for their own return transportation, as the IHBC will not provide buses or an option to ride the train back from Silverton to Durango.
U.S. Highway 550 from Durango to Silverton still will be closed by Colorado State Patrol from Purgatory Resort to Silverton on the day of the road races.
May 30 racing will see the mountain bike races and gravel ride. Because of public health guidelines, this year’s pro mountain bikers will not get to ride through Steamworks Brewing Co. and will be moved away from downtown.
“We have spent the last 15 years trying to make the Iron Horse a visible event in town. Now, we have to try to hide it for a year,” Sippy said, noting the exact trails to be used for the mountain bike race have not yet been determined.
There will be no packet pickup party in downtown the Friday night before the races. The kids race also will not be held this year, nor will the Cruiser Criterium. The IHBC has also temporarily postponed a plan to host a professional fat-tire mountain bike criterium on the Friday night before the road races.
While it won’t be the full weekend of racing at the size the IHBC had hoped for, the ability to host an event at all in 2021 is pivotal for the race organization to stay in business and gear up for a highly-anticipated 50th anniversary celebration in 2022. Event organizers have big plans to honor their history for the 50th edition while also working to be at the forefront of cycling events when it comes to the latest trends in the industry.
The return of the IHBC is also expected to be a boost for the economies of Durango and Silverton, as small businesses have been hit hard during the pandemic. All of those considerations were a big driving force in the IHBC pushing ahead with plans to race in 2021.
“We needed to have an event, and we are committed to doing it safely,” Sippy said. “We need to get back on track. The community needs us to get going again, and not just us. The community needs to get lots of things going again, and we’re just one of those. We need to get this one done to, hopefully, celebrate 50 years of Iron Horse next year and really feel like we’re back in the game. That’s been paramount in our thinking.
“It’s a hard time for anybody to plan anything. We have a quite large special event, and the questions of how to scale back have been hard. The hand-wringing is not done yet. We are going to get more curveballs between now and Memorial Day weekend. But we want to be clear, there will not be the crush and crowd of people there has been in the past. We are sensitive to the fact we have to scale it down, work closely with SJBPH and the town of Silverton to make sure we can do this when the time comes.”