Durango Special Events Kick Off With 49th Iron Horse Classic


This year’s Memorial weekend saw the return of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. Although this trimmed down event wasn’t the usual full-on summer kickoff of past years, it proved a sign that Durango can start breathing a little easier during the post-pandemic summer. Thank you to the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic for providing footage and photos. Sponsored by Kroeger’s Ace Hardware and San Juan Basin Public Health

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After taking a year hiatus pending restrictions from COVID-19, Durango's Iron Horse Bicycle Classic returned for its 49th year over Memorial Day weekend. This year's Iron Horse was the largest event to date since COVID restrictions were eased down in mid May, setting the stage for more large special events over the Durango summer season. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Kroegers ACE hardware and San Juan Basin Public Health. Gaige Sippy, who served as director of the Iron Horse for the past 15 years, met with us to discuss what it's been like having the event return in 2021.

My name is Gaige Sippy, director of the Iron Hose Bicycle Classic. Back in 1971, the Mayer brothers, Tom and Jim Mayer, one worked for the train, one rode his bike. They kind of had a brotherly bet. I bet I can beat you to Silverton. And so they did that. And a local businessman named Ed Zink, who owned a bike shop here, said that's an interesting idea. So back then, Durango wasn't quite the metropolis that it is now. What kind of drove the idea was we could use an event give us some summer kickoff. Here we are today. Finished off 49 years of the event and that's kind of the history of it. And through the years it's had a lot of iterations but what has held true is bicycle racing in Durango on Memorial Day weekend.

Due to the continued restrictions posed by COVID 19 in early 2021, it was unclear whether or not the Iron Horse would even run again this year. Fortunately at the last second, the stars aligned and a trimmed down Iron Horse event was able to take place. In addition to several canceled and altered events, the 49th Iron Horse Bicycle Classic had another notable omission. The Durango to Silverton train would not take part in Saturday's race.

Yes, it's different not to start down near the train station. I told the riders though, we started up near 33rd Street and East 2nd, right next to the train tracks. I told everybody they were going to have a 26 block advantage on their bikes to get ahead of the train. But it was different without the train pulling up, the whistle, all of that stuff. And yes, some of our participants were upset but they also said that they were so happy to be back out again and doing something cycling related, special event related, that they were okay with it.

Another big change for the post COVID event was the absence of Iron Horse founder, Ed Zink, who passed away after the last Iron Horse in 2019.

It's had an effect in as much as that it's the first time it's ever happened without Ed being here. And so for all of us that have been involved in it a long time, it's not normal for me not to see Ed here. I would normally, he and I would have five or six conversations throughout the weekend. He'd be here tonight, helping us break things down. He would have been here. He'd have met everybody that's in town. I used to say, Ed met everyone that came. He'd meet all 3,000 people somehow. But the great thing about Ed doing it and what we miss from Ed not doing that is capturing some of those personal stories. That was something that was extremely important. That it was great, that some young kid was fast and won the race to Silverton. But that wasn't an important to Ed as the person that wanted to make a life change and bought a bike and set the Iron Horse as a goal and succeeded. To Ed, that was far more impressive than some hot shot bike racer riding their in two and a half hours. And so I'd like to believe that spirit's still alive.

Although this event was limited to 1,000 cyclists rather than the typical 4,000 strong of recent years, the first post pandemic Iron Horse Bicycle Classic has served as an example of Durango's incredible resiliency.

I always, always, always want to say that this event would not survive without the community's support. I don't really like this phrase but it takes a village to do this. And we really have a village to put the Iron Horse on. And I appreciate the community putting up with it every year. Not everybody loves it, but they tolerate it. We close a road, we do all these things. But I think at the end of the day, after 49 years, it's part of the fabric of our community. And while I think we saw in 2020 that when fabric can get stretched and pulled and broken, and this was a great opportunity for us to show that we got stretched a little bit. We didn't break, but we started to feeling it and we've kind of regained our composure and we've put this place back to normal a little bit on this weekend.


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