Horse Classic 40 Year Anniversary
by Tom Mayer
Last year my brother, Jim and I were asked if we would
to Durango to help celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Iron Horse
Bicycle Classic. We agreed and I decided to do it right, I
ride and ride the same bike that I rode the first year. Jim would ride
the train. I was wondering why they were calling this the
Anniversary when it had only been 39 years. Well, it's because they
count the first year when I raced Jim to Silverton as the first year. Jim
and I were honored by the invitiation. We had no
this event was to be more than a ride and celebration.
It was a time of reflection and introspection. The
following is the story of the one who started this race and had not
ridden the road for the past 34 years. I hope
to convey my
feelings and emotions in this story.
there were some things
I would have to do to get ready, like rebuilding the bike and learning
how to ride the road again.
The bike, a 1968 Schwinn Paramount, was completely in pieces and hadn't
been ridden since 1975. I had
repainted it then, but never reassembled it. The frame is double butted
and weighs 3 pounds. The bike always fit me like a glove and handled
beautifully. I couldn't find one of the boxes of parts which had the
original Campangolo components, so I had to swap out some of the
components. The beloved Brooks Pro saddle was given up to save some
weight. I couldn't find the original down tube shifters, so went with
the barcons. The original Campy Record crankset was 51-44. The
smallest chainring available then was 44T. The largest freewheel cog in
those days was 26 teeth. That meant a low gear of only 46". Five cogs
were normal on a freewheel back
Even though I did a lot of climbing out of the saddle, not being able
to have lower gear back then lead
|My 1968 Schwinn Paramount on Molas Pass
|to me suffering
severe knee injuries for many years. Still recovering from a recent
knee injury, I wanted to make sure I had adequately low
gears for the passes. So,
Mountain Tamer Quad to
the rescue. I set it
up with 48-38-28-18 and 13-14-15-16-17-19-22. This gave me a
range from 22" to 98" with close gear spacing. I wanted a 12T
cog on the freewheel for one higher gear, but had to work with what I
could get in the
available time. I went with 180 mm cranks, which I'll explain later.
accessories are modern so look a little out of place. The tires are
700C x 20mm clinchers. The bike weighs 23.4 pounds. That was
pretty respectable in 1971, but not by today's standards.
bike was originally metallic blue. When I repainted it in 1975, I
wanted a color scheme that was different from any thing else. I
added the cable lugs and guides. The original shifters were on the down
tube. I plan on switching out the handlebars
ones. When I do I have some nice vintage yellow handle bar tape to wrap
them. When I find the rest of the Campangolo components, I'll probably
put them back on too. The important thing for this event was to try to
keep the bike as vintage as I could, but the main goal was to get up
and running reliably.
I was able to find the original Schwinn decals, but couldn't get them
shipped in on time. I'll have to add them later.
Schwinn Paramount was the primiere US made, road
bike at that time. It's really great to have it running again.
I also decided I should use the same shoes I wore the first year of the
race, as well. Few would dare to ride these shoes today. Once
tighten the toestraps on these shoes, your feet will not come out of
unless you release the straps. Some lessons in life are not easily
forgotten. I would not have any problem remembering to release the
strap. They were pretty tight. I had to soak them and put shoe
stretchers in them. They were still pretty tight.
is my helmet
from the early '70s.
It would be illegal in a race today.
Another challenge was
that I had not ridden a road bike since 1977, being as I have been a
die-hard mountain biker since then. Riding
20mm tires after running big fat mountain bike tires was a
unnerving for a while. I watch every rock and crack in the road. I
would have to relearn what used to be second
nature. Could I come anywhere close to my time in the first race when I
was 34 years younger?
|I didn't have the road bike finished so
had to train
one of my mountain bikes. The Sandia Crest highway is pretty good for
its sustained climbing and 10678' top elevation. I decided to
ride from the house to the top of the Crest and back. As I
climbing, I marked my time for the climb. In 1977 on my final race I
had done the climb in 1:03 and won first place. On
day, at 1:03 into the climb, I wasn't even half way up the climb. I
decided to do the best I could anyway. The ride was 55 miles and I felt
good about it. I wanted to go
to Durango a week
or two before the race
to train and acclimate. Conditions at the time prevented that. So a
week ahead of the race I finally had the bike ready and headed up the
Crest. The climbing was considerably easier on the road bike. This time
at 1:03 I was much further up the mountain, but still 3 miles from the
top. I had planned to ride
the last 6 miles of
climbing 2 or 3 times. It was a chilly day and I had only a
wind breaker. As I started back down the mountain, I started shivering
so much that I was making the bike shake all over. After a couple of
miles, I turned around and went back up to build back some body
heat. I headed down again. Now the wind was
whipping me all
over the road. The skinny tires don't have the inertia that mtb tires
have so I was having to reign it in, especially through the
switchbacks. I got up to 40 mph a couple times and I was having to
force myself to do that. Memories of the crash I had doing 65
when I was 15 were trying to haunt me. I know I told myself "You can do
this." numerous times. It was very comfortable doing 45 on
mountain bike on the trip before. I would definitely need to get more
practice before the race. Would I ever be comfortable taking
to 60-65 mph like I used to?
The other thing I
would need to do is get used
to drafting in close. It had been 34 years since I had been good at
riding within an inch of the wheel in front of me.
that the direction of rotation had changed somewhere over the years. I
looked up the times for guys in my age class. Wow! Very impressive. I
would definitely have some competition. Could I pull this off without
damaging my knees?
is running out. I'm not going to be
able to go to
Durango early to train. I headed to Durango two days before the race
drove up to Durango Mountain Resort (Purgatory).
I planned to ride Coal
Bank and Molas Passes. That would get me some climbing and descending
miles and help me to acclimate to the elevation. It would also let me
know how I to dress for the race and how much I
The climbing felt pretty
good. The scenery was awesome. The roads are clear and dry, but there
was lots of snow on the pass.
performing perfectly and the
gears were awesome. As I neared the top of Coal Bank Pass I heard a
"plink" and my vision went blurry. The frame of my glasses had broken
and the lens fell out, hit my frame and then the pavement. The lenses
are tempered glass, but the impact chipped out part of it. I put the
lens in my pack and continued to the top of the pass with one eye
I found a zip tie along the road. I thought I could
use that to fix the frame. Once at the top of the pass, I tried to fix
the frame. The zip tie wasn't enough. A truck pulled up. The guy is
going to ride down the pass. I asked them if the had a rubber band.
They did, but then I realize I've now broken the temple off the frame.
With their help we found the missing temple. It turned out they are
friends of my niece. Without my glasses, riding down the pass was not
option. My new friends gave me a ride back to my van. God always has a
way of working things out.
I thought I had a spare pair of glasses in
the van. I didn't, but always carry epoxy. With the repair completed, I
about going up the pass again, but it had cooled down and was getting
windy, so I decided to go for a hike down the Purgatory Trail to the
Animas River. I would have liked to do it on my mountain bike, but it's
now closed to bikes. The hike would be workout at high elevation
without straining my knees anymore than I already
scenery was awesome.
I remembered fond memories of riding
years back when we made a 40 mile trip out of it.
I wanted to keep going, but know this area will be in the shade before
would get back to the top and it would be getting cold. I continued
I met Cascade Creek, then made a short side trip up it a ways before
turning back .
I thought I would go up above Purgatory to camp. I didn't make it very
far before I ran into snow on the road and could't go any further.
So I decided to drive back up the pass and camp
on Coal Bank. Every hour spent at high elevation would help me to
acclimate. Watching the sunset over the Needle Mountains was a fitting
finish to a great day.
View from My Camp
of my camp
the next morning
It's back to Durango to find out what is going
on. This is the
day of the swap meet. I got some incredible deals and was
able to connect with everybody I needed to. I found out that I would be
in the tour instead of the race. That was a big relief. My knees
thank me because I would't be pushing to the max, plus I
get to meet
people along the way and just relax and enjoy the ride.
Ed Zink, Jim and I met with Rich Fletcher of Animas Video Productions
for an interview in the video shoot for a video that they're doing
about the Iron Horse Classic.
It's Saturday morning and we're getting ready
getting some pictures taken I'm told that Ed Zink, Ruthie Matthes and I
will be leading the pack off at the start. Wow! What an honor! Ruthie
has a title for just about every type of bike race plus the Olympics.
humbled. It's amazing to see how many people are here for this event.
There are lots of things rushing through my mind, however they are not
butterflies as they were that first year. I'm thinking about the fact
that I've not had any time to practice drafting. I pray to God to give
me the confidence and the experience back that I once had, to help me
do the right things, and that nothing stupid would happen in front of
me as well as for the safety of everyone in the event. As we start out
were supposed to hold the pace back little bit, but it doesn't take
long for the pack to want to go and take off. This is supposed to be a
tour, but it's more like a race. The pace is exhilarating
and I feel great. I'm thinking that this pace feels good now but can I
maintain it. We sail through Durango. The pack is not tight as it was
in my racing days, so I'm feeling comfortable about the drafting. As we
leave Durango start down the hill into the valley, everything is going
very smoothly. Though my experience of riding nearly 100,000 miles on
the road has faded and been blurred by nearly the same amount of miles
riding the dirt, my confidence is coming back. I'm able to move up a
few positions. I can start to get
to know some of the people around me. It is amazing. I am mesmerized by
the sound of the wheels. There were never packs this hugh back in my
roadie days. The skinny tires are not bothering me so much now, but I'm
still watching out for every little crack in the pavement. The tires
roll effortlessly. We're running 27 mph, and I'm just cruising.
As we near Hermosa, I'm thinking that I owe it to everyone
to lead the pack. As I crossed the tracks I decided where it should be.
It would be through the stretch where my dad's property bordered the
highway. My dad passed away a few years ago. This would be my tribute
to him. We were starting to climb as I pulled up to the front of the
pack. I was almost to the front as we started to descend a bit. Ruthie
was alongside me. I said, "Ruthie, quick pull me up to the front." She
understands, and does. The rest of the pack seems to somehow know also.
I lead the pack for about 3/8 mile and say, "That's for you,
Dad." I'm elated.
Now were starting to climb. I'm holding my own. I shoot some pictures
as I ride. Some of the riders who
started early are walking. I encourage them as I go by. I'm especially
impressed by some of the people who are on this tour. I notice people
who are overweight. They are having to walk, but they're doing this. I
am overwhelmed to think that they are here because of something that I
started, so many years ago. As we are climbing, I remember the road
very well and know where the short descents will be. I try to catch up
with someone to draft through those sections. I'm trying to conserve my
energy and prevent myself from pushing too much. I push the thoughts
from the back of my mind to tell me that I'm recovering from a knee
injury. It is more important to finish then to make a fast
time. I'll gain time on the passes. I
the time in my past when I could push as hard and long as I
wanted to. I won't use age as an excuse. I simply haven't been putting
in the miles that I used to and now I'm paying the price. It's early in
the season I still have lots of riding ahead of me. I will
it out. As I approach one
downhill stretch, there's no one for me to catch. Just then, someone
comes up from behind and I jump on his wheel. On another
there's no one ahead of me, so it's my turn to take the lead and pull
those behind me. As I think back in my past of those days when I was
racing, I recall when I could lead the pack whenever I needed to. I
remind myself that this is a tour not a race. I am having a great time
and feel good.
pass Durango Mountain resort and head for the base of Coal Bank Pass,
I'm running up to 40 mph and passing a number of people.
It's now time
to climb the pass. My strategy was to stay in the pack, conserving
energy, and then use my climbing ability to make up time on the pass.
When I rebuilt the bike, I purposely put 180 mm cranks on it because
that's what I'm used to on the mountain bike. I wouldn't be able hold a
high spin like I used to, but figured it
wouldn't hurt me that much riding in the pack, but the increased torque
would be a big
benefit on the climbs. That proves to be true. I can stand up and just
walk away. I'm also loving my low gears when I want to rest a bit..
I'm steadily gaining
the riders the ahead of me. I feel strong and comfortable. Many riders
were walking. I encourage them as I go by. I'm proud of them for
accepting the challenge.
Then I approach a man on a
recumbent hand cycle. I figured he may be a paraplegic. He's riding
well and looks strong. I
encouraged him and cheered him on. I know he is someone I want
to meet and get to know. I brought some special prizes to award after
the race. I didn't know who I would be giving the to, but it would be
for something special. Now, I
know who is going to receive one of them. I heard someone
comment, "I wouldn't want to arm wrestle with that guy." His
I will meet him tomorrow and we will
have a long
interesting conversation. His name is Michael Robinson and yes, he
it to Silverton. Way to go Michael!
You are an inspiration to all of us.
Approaching the top of
Coal Bank Pass, there are lots of people standing around. This is a
station. There are more riders here than were in the whole race the
I needed to tap a kidney, but line is long. As
wait I work out a few muscles that have
talking to me. I better get going. This stop
could mean the
difference of beating the train or not.
decide not to wear my windbreaker going down the pass. I may be a
little cool, but I'll be warm going up Molas.
Every corner exposes scenery more spectacular
is coming back, and I'm able to descend at a good pace and am
passing people again.
I managed to snap a few pictures as I
Back on the climb, my low gears and long
cranks were paying off again. I was riding comfortably and passing more
riders. Many were walking. When I first envisioned this race. I did not
want it to be easy. I was moved with emotion to see so many people
doing it even if they had to walk.
At the top of Molas Pass, the view is
Snowden Peak looking this way. Kendal Mountain is the other.
East and west are impressive too.
People are relaxing and enjoying it. I'm remembering an X-C ski trip on
Snowden Peak many years ago.
Ed finds me and wants to ride down the 8 mile
decent off the pass and into Silverton together.
Once again, I was honored. As we start down, I
tell him that I will be holding the speed down because I'm not used
to going fast any more. The highway department swept the highway
and the road is in very good condition. As we descend, I'm feeling
more comfortable and start bringing up my speed. Since the highway is
closed to vehicles for the race, we can take the whole road
through the corners. It fells good, and once again, we're passing
people. Ed is hanging right in there with me. If you've never been on
this road you have to understand that it is a steep mountainous road
with very steep drop offs to the side down to the river. You do not
want to lose it going down this road.
At one point, I glance at my trip computer and
and I'm comfortable with it. I thank the Lord for giving me back my
confidence. Later Ned Overand will tell me that he ran over 55 coming
pass. Years back Ed was leading the pack with a motorcycle and the lead
rider yelled at him to get out of the way and past him doing over 60.
As we descend, I keep my legs spinning, so they won't cool off. I'm
thinking, a higher gear would be nice.
As we approach the bottom of the pass, I
know we will now have a gradual climb for a mile to the far end of
Silverton. Will my legs go wet
noodles in the final stretch? As we leave the decent, I turned it
on and start winding it out. Instead of going flat, I finally hit the
zone. It feels great as we
sailed on in to the finish.
Again, I am overwhelmed as I see a crowd of 3300 riders and realize
that they are here because of the dream I had so many years ago. My
brother, Jim is here to
meet me and since I didn't beat the train this time he says I owed him
a candy bar. My niece, Melissa has one waiting for me to give him. He
rubbing it in and is having a time he will long remember. Jim has
thoroughly enjoyed riding in the engine of the
Durango Silverton train and felt right at home, where he had spent so
much of his life. The thing that is overwhelming
me the most
is the number of people who come up to me and thank me for starting
this race. They tell me how it has changed their life. I am humbled and
My thanks go to Ed Zink, without whom, none of
would have ever happened and to all the many workers and
volunteers who have made this race possible and have enabled it to
continue. It could not happen without them. My
to every single person who's ever ridden the race or done the ride for
sharing in my dream. If you have never done this ride, let me encourage
you to do so. You will never forget this eperience. |