Every year on Memorial Day weekend, athletes peddle up daunting mountain inclines from Durango to Silverton to take part in the tradition of the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, now in its 47th year. The road to Silverton hasn’t changed, but after participating in a dozen races and spending over 11 years running the event, director Gaige Sippy has seen how Durango’s race of the year has evolved over time. Some of the planning components function like clockwork, but there are new nuances each year he has to pay attention to. We talked to Sippy about what those nuances are and find out how the Iron Horse has changed since he first started.
Is the Iron Horse something you work on year-round? Is it your full-time job?“It’s not a full-time job for me, but I do spend time throughout the year – all year – doing stuff with it.”
What else is it that you do? “I own my own business. I am in the rental properties business in New Mexico, so I spend a couple days a week traveling down to New Mexico, (and have) for well over 20 years. It’s interesting because the fact that my business isn’t here in Durango, it’s almost like it doesn’t exist sometimes for folks. I’ve traveled Highway 550 South a lot. Most people don’t know I have a business that is my primary source of income outside the Iron Horse.”
What are you listening to on your drive to New Mexico? “I listen to a plethora of things. I have satellite radio; I listen to that. Actually, it’s good from an Iron Horse perspective. I spend a lot of time thinking about details around the event, because when you have hours in the car to contemplate things, you can cover a lot of subjects, and I do find myself spending a lot of time planning new events and thinking about the Iron Horse.”
What are some of the components of the event that change each year?“I’ve been at it long enough now that one of the things that have changed throughout the years – even since I started – is the way we have to manage the increased amount of traffic in and around the Durango area. … That has changed significantly. If I look at the level of detail that we have to put together for traffic plans from when I started back in 2007 to what it looks like today in 2018, it’s unbelievably different.”
How different is it? “It’s tremendous. When the event grows, that adds traffic. Then, when you look at how much our community has changed since 2007 to now. Here’s an example: The amount of traffic-controlled furniture – signs, barricades, all that kind of stuff that went from being able to fit in one full-size pickup truck when I started. Now we have an entire traffic control company. We send semis to Silverton hauling pedestrian barricades. We didn’t do any of that in 2007.”
Will you share one of your favorite Iron Horse memories?“That is a tough question. There are a lot of great ones. A favorite of mine every year is to see someone make it to Silverton who didn’t think they could do it. We have those every year. Probably, one of my favorite (examples of that) – I was reached out to by a gentleman from Albuquerque, a veteran who lost his legs, and now rode a handcycle. He wanted to come to Durango and ride his handcycle to Silverton. …He was not going to make the road closure cutoff. We sweep riders from the road at 1:30. (For traffic reasons), we have to have everybody off the road. Well, he was the last guy in the train that day. Law enforcement held the road closed long enough for him to make it into Silverton. That was great to see him.
I literally watch him use his hydraulic lift to get his bike out of the back of the truck and get himself onto (the bike). I thought, ‘My lord! What an accomplishment!’ It’s hard enough to get to Silverton able-bodied, and for this gentleman to have gone through what he’s gone through, and for us to be able to accommodate him reaching his goal, there is nothing better than that. Every time I talk about it I get choked up.”