Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mountain Bike Capital

At the conclusion of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic (see our entry two days ago), we realized that our introduction to the world of competitive bicycle racing had begun.

The Iron Horse has been a very strong develop-mental event for young riders and nearly every American to win an Olympic medal or to compete in the World Championships has raced in Durango.

In conversa-tions with other spectators, we learned that the criterium portion of the Classic would be held the next day.

Without knowing what we would be seeing, we emphatically stated we would be attending that event. After some quick research, we learned that a criterium or crit is a bike race held on a short course (usually less than 5 km), often run on closed-off city center streets.

The race length can be determined by the total time or a number of laps. Generally the event's duration is one hour.

We arrived in downtown Durango (CO) in the middle of what we thought was the criterium.

The course was laid out through the town's business district and a portion of the residential section. Spare tires were piled at the intersections and along the portions of the streets where the risk (to riders and spectators) of an accident was greatest.

Well, this 45-minute race, which included eight turns and a couple of small hills, was just one of 14 criterium to be held that day.

Racing classes ranged from Junior Women and Junior Men (15-18) to Senior Women (55+) and Master Men (65+) with professional classes for both men and women.

While the group of racers were out of sight on other portions of the course, we had time to do some people watching. Along with cheers for their favorites, many spectators rang yellow bells (photo, bell shown in the hand of the boy on the left) that sounded like cow bells as the cyclists raced by.

When describing the Iron Horse criterium, three-time defending champion Chris Wherry of Durango was quoted in The Durango Herald as saying: "In the first laps, they jump up to speed. Really, you just want to survive those early laps.... The middle of the hour-long race is survival.... You have to save energy for the sprint, and it's a criterium, so there's always a sprint."

Durango is also the home of Fort Lewis College, which has a cycling team, which is now the nation’s #1 ranked division I team.

It's no wonder that Durango is known as the "Mountain Bike Capital of the World." It hosted the National Collegiate mountain bike championships (1994), the National Collegiate road bike championships (1997), the first internationally sanctioned UCI World Mountain Bike Championships (1990), and World Cup races for both the cross country and the downhill (2001).

In the early 90’s, the community boasted eight Mountain Bike World Champions, more than any other city in the world and more than most nations.

Not bad for a remote town of only 16,000 people nestled in the mountains of southwest Colorado.

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