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Photo Report: lnside the Inaugural Durango Derby

Sep 26, 2023 at 6:26
by Betsy Welch  
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Words by Betsy Welch
Photos by Alex Roszko


Durango didn't need Sepp Kuss' Vuelta a España win to earn its stamp on the map as a cycling hotbed, but it certainly gave everyone in the southwestern Colorado town another hero to look up to. Name an American cycling national or world champion, or an Olympian, and it's likely that he or she has ties to Durango (here are a few: Ned Overend, Ruthie Matthes, Todd Wells, Christopher Blevins). The first sanctioned UCI Mountain Bike World Championships was held in Durango in 1990, and since then talent has sprung up like scrub oak beneath the juniper trees.

Despite everything about Durango that breeds champions — namely Durango Devo, its world class development program — the city of 25,000 hasn't hosted as many bike races as you'd think. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, held every Memorial Day weekend, is a stalwart on the calendar, but most of the town's legends have had to get their racing kicks elsewhere.

Howard Grotts, a multi time national champion and Olympian who was born and raised in Durango, said that in his lifetime, "there hasn't been a whole lot" other than weekly short track racing and Tuesday Worlds group rides.

But on Saturday, a few hundred passionate locals and visitors — Grotts included — came together in hopes of a sea change in the sage. The Durango Derby, a new four-stage, one-day race, debuted on the flanks of the city's brand new Durango Mesa Park. The event, conceived by locals Dylan Stucki and Dave Hagen, seeks to showcase the best of Durango's in-town singletrack in a format that's attractive and accessible to pros and amateurs alike.

Now, the early results are in, and they're unanimous: people — from the pros to the little people (scroll down for maximum cuteness) want the Derby to stay.

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Stucki and Hagen know that mountain bike racing can be intimidating so they created three options for racing Derby: solo, two-person, and four-person teams. There were pro and amateur categories for the solo division, and a few weeks before the race, Stucki and Hagen offered deep discounts to interested female and female-identifying racers.

The biggest challenge? Finding a date on the calendar that didn't conflict with other major events. Derby ended up sandwiched between two Life Time Grand Prix events and a week before the Snowshoe World Cup. Nevertheless, pros racing on both of those circuits, like Payson McElveen, Ryan Standish, Ellen Campbell, and inaugural Derby champs Howard Grotts and Sofia Waite, still prioritized being at the start line.

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Payson McElveen
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The (very relaxed) pro men's start

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Ryan Standish
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Ellen Campbell

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Howard Grotts
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Sofia Waite

Stage one of the race started up the same trail used in the Colorado State High School championships and eventually led riders to the top of Telegraph Hill.

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The US' U23 talent was out in force on Saturday. Waite was joined on the podium by Bailey Cioppa, a Durango local and Team USA teammate. Brayden Johnson, who is Cioppa's Bear National Team teammate, was second in the men's pro race. All three are headed to the Snowshoe World Cup.

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Each of the Durango Derby's four stages were on different trail networks in town — Durango Mesa, Overend Mountain Park, Animas Mountain, and Horse Gulch. Transfers were neutral and untimed (I stopped for a coffee in town between stages one and three) and ended up being a highlight of everyone's day - including the friends and family who came out to ride their loved one's to the next stage.

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While Durango's vast network of in-town mountain biking has something for everyone, the overarching theme is technical, loose, and rocky. Sarah Sturm, an off-road endurance pro who moved to Durango to attend Fort Lewis College and hasn't left, said that before Derby, she hadn't raced mountain bikes in Durango since college.

"The technical riding here is something I love but have hated, too," she said. "My skills were always so far behind my talented peers who'd started riding on dirt from a young age. It's taken me a decade, but I finally feel confident riding and racing these trails."

Sturm was third on the day!

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Evelyn Dong

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Neighborhood trailheads — and tolerant neighbors — are another thing that make Durango a world class bike city. Stages 2 and 3 both started and ended at the end of residential streets, where the event got permitting to put aid stations and portapotties.

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You hike some, you shred some.

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Durango Devo hosted a kids race while everyone was hanging out after the adults race. It. was. adorable. Race announcer Josh Maule (of Leadville Trail 100 MTB fame) provided captivating play-by-play commentary. Kids raced by their age, not ability level (that's a Devo thing — "riding in an age-based program helps build those key friendships that ultimately makes a successful rider," they say). Race sweep was provided by Devo coaches, including collegiate rider Michaela Thompson.

Stucki says that the kids race will be even bigger next year.

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Segment 28's Michaela Thompson chaperones a little ripper

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The men's pro podium was a Champagne-chugging tribute to Sepp, who raced with both Grotts and McElveen back in the day. And, in addition to podium bubbly there was a decent payout for the pro race, something that Stucki and Hagen hope to grow in the future to continue to attract a deep and talented pro field.

Results:

Open Men


1st. Howard Grotts:161:42.18
2nd. Brayden Johnson: +0:53.74
3rd. Payson McElveen: +4:20.92
4th. Todd Wells: +7:21.05
5th. Cody Cupp: +8:03.58


Open Women


1st. Sofia Waite: 190:02.97
2nd. Bailey Cioppa: +8:53.29
3rd. Sarah Sturm: +10:27.54
4th. Ellen Campbell: +14:30.98
5th. Evelyn Dong: +15:58.98


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Second place winners Brayden Johnson and Bailey Cioppa

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A few local bike businesses brought their wares to the Derby, including the king of cages himself! Ron Andrews, who runs the cult favorite King Cage brand, even brought his bending device to the expo for live demos.

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Stay tuned for more information about the Durango Derby 2024!

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Sarah Sturm made sure to attend her hometown race in between the Life Time Grand Prix.
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The inimitable Dylan Stucki, race promoter and trash man extraordinaire.

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Author Info:
betsywelch avatar

Member since Jul 30, 2018
15 articles

18 Comments
  • 50 1
 I just want to extend a massive THANK YOU to everyone who came out for our first year and supported the event. We can't wait for next year!
  • 4 0
 Good times out there, thanks Dylan!
  • 5 0
 Ditto to want Dylan said - huge thanks to all and can’t wait to see you all again next year.
  • 24 0
 My kid made Pinkbike, LoL!
  • 8 0
 What looks like an exemplar of an event, everyone can take notes!
  • 2 0
 Betsy: Great article! Wonderful photos! Congrats to the Durango Derby for a terrific 1st event! This format could be a model for others trying to get all ages and all abilities involved in MTB'ing!
  • 4 0
 It was sweet! Everybody come next year.
  • 4 0
 Nice work trashman.
  • 1 0
 Awesome event! Legs are still sore, but already looking forward to next year.
  • 2 0
 That single speed manual is so sick..#cookie
  • 1 0
 Is it insane that P2 seemed to be the same prize money as the Elite men in WCDH

Big Grin

Great job from the organisers that !
  • 1 0
 Durango is sick as AF... The rest of colorado can't compare... Truly a great mtb destination!
  • 1 0
 Fantastic event! Burly single track courses. Great vibe. Really well run.
  • 1 1
 And still no photos from the US Open?
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