SILVERTON – Sarah Sturm stood in Silverton after a second-place finish at last year’s Iron Horse Bicycle Classic professional women’s road race having ridden a borrowed road bike that she clipped into with mountain bike shoes.
A year later and after a singlespeed cyclocross national championship in December, a Sea Otter Classic criterium race win this spring on a gravel bike and a win on the grueling Belgian Waffle Ride in southern California only 20 days earlier, Sturm once again stood in Silverton, this time as a first-time champion of the IHBC.
She finished the nearly 50-mile race with more than 5,000 feet of climbing and the grueling climbs of Shalona Hill, Coal Bank Pass and Molas Pass in 2 hours, 49 minutes, 13.6 seconds. Aimee Vassee of Longmont, who beat Sturm a year ago for the title in her first year living in Colorado, was second in 2:52:55.
“I honestly didn’t know if I was winning at the end, so I didn’t want to put my hands up like a jerk,” Sturm said. “I attacked at the bottom of Coal Bank and died a thousand deaths out there. (Vasse) and I didn’t even say anything; we just both suffered together.”
Sturm said she wasn’t sure if she should sit in with the men’s riders on the course, so she stayed to the side of them. When she attacked and finally dropped Vasse, she tried to hide up the road from her competitor, and she had the advantage of being able to look back and see Vasse in her bright blue jersey.
“I learned to attack earlier this year,” Sturm said. “Not on Shalona, but I wanted to put the pressure on. Aimee is such a strong climber, and it was clear to me when she hit Shalona that she was comfortable.
“I’ve been working on my descending and not breaking. After the descent from Coal Bank, I used my momentum and tested the water. Aimee didn’t come with me, and I tried to die out there and hide from her because mentally that can be tough on an opponent.”
Two-time IHBC winner Mindy Caruso finished third in 2:54:17.
“Getting on the podium this year is icing on the cake because it’s my first race this year,” Caruso said. “It’s been a challenging year for many reasons. Love coming here with Team New Mexico and Team Colorado and everyone else. I keep coming up here and have the time of my life and hope to keep coming up here until I’m an old, old lady.”
The 47-year-old Caruso is from Albuquerque. While Sturm now calls Durango home, she is from Albuquerque, and Caruso was elated for her fellow New Mexico rider.
“I love it. I remember Sarah when she was a little girl on the back of her dad’s bike riding,” Caruso said. “She’s always been such a positive and mature competitor. She’s definitely a role model to women in this sport and I’m so proud of her to take the win.”
Durango’s Emily Jordan turned in a stellar fourth-place finish in 2:55:43. Durango’s Jennifer Gersbach was seventh in 3:03:25, and 16-year-old Durangoan Ruth Holcomb was eighth in 3:06:24. Holcomb will be favored to win the Queen of the Mountain on Sunday when she will also compete in the pro women’s mountain bike race in downtown Durango. The top overall finisher of both races is crowned the overall champion.
McKenzie Winebarger of Durango was ninth in 3:06:24, and Durango’s 15-year-old Lauren Aggeler rounded out the top 10 in 3:06:27. Fort Lewis College’s Tristen Musselman was the top Skyhawk in 12th in 3:10:12.
“Today was super fun,” Holcomb said. “It was definitely a new experience for me racing road with some really fast ladies, but once I got to the passes, I felt really good.
“I rode with (Aggeler) for a while and we began to catch some people. She was very helpful, and it was amazing to have a teammate. Overall, I’m happy with how I did and surprised as well. I’m super happy for Sturm, and it was so cool to see her win.”
Sturm won’t compete at the IHBC mountain bike race Sunday, as she left town Saturday for a wedding in Albuquerque. She was part of a driving force along with Durango’s Emily Schaldach and Kaylee Blevins to get equal prize pay for the women’s field at the IHBC pro women’s road race this year, and the IHBC matched the women’s prize purse to the $3,000 the men are paid out across the top 10 placers.
The win was special for the 30-year-old Sturm, who remembered walking her bike up Shalona Hill in her first IHBC road race attempt. After a storied collegiate career at FLC followed by a now surging pro career, Sturm was grateful for Saturday’s moment on top of the podium in Silverton and will look forward to more big results across the globe in 2019.
“I’ve come a ways,” Sturm said. “I think it just hit me that I finally won the Iron Horse. It’s been a crazy year. I think women have an advantage because we have such longevity in the sport. Pro women mountain bikers winning world cups at age 50. My support from my team has been incredible in getting me to races and experience, and women are just creatures of endurance.
“I think if you just stick with it long enough, you’ll do some cool stuff in this sport.”