Ft. Lewis, Fall Blaze Making it Happen to Support Collegiate Cycling

By Rob Quinn (Dirt Journal)

Durango. How do I love thee, let me count the ways:

  • World Class Mountain Biking,
  • World Class Dining (More independent places to eat per thousand than San Fran!),
  • World Class Beer,
  • World Class River,
  • Gateway to the San Juans,
  • Home to beloved Fort Lewis College.

If you are not familiar with Fort Lewis and their mark on college cycling and Durango for that matter, just know that they have won 24 National Championship, as a Division one NCAA sport even though they are not a division one size school

Due to budget cuts the 2020 Track and BMX programs have been frozen or temporarily eliminated this year. With two major disciplines out of the mix, a hunt for another National Championship is that much tougher. 

Durango, that little slice of perfection has really taken a few hits in the past few years.

First the historic 416 Fire that was started by the Durango & Silverton train. Splitting the community on this historic Train line and its economic impact on the region. 

In 2015 there was The Gold King Mine waste water spill. An environmental disaster that begun down stream from the Gold King mine near Silverton and still today, when the conditions are right, turns the Animas into a color reserved for YooHoo soda. 

Last year Ben Sonntag was killed by motorist. He came to Fort Lewis to race bikes, became quite the success story staying in Durango and raced professionally for Cliff bar team after graduation. The affable native of Germany known to refer to himself in the 3rd person as “This guy” was killed on a training ride. At press time the driver has pleaded not guilty and it appears this is headed to trial. 

Now the budget cuts to the cycling programs. 

The unremarkable Grover Cleveland once said “In calm water every ship has a good captain”. I invited Fort Lewis Cycling’s Dave Hagan over for a morning mountain bike ride, breakfast and chat afterward before he headed back to Durango. A Lakewood native and self-confessed “Mall Rat”. Hagen has coached Fort Lewis for 16 years—the only coach the program has ever had.

Here is a link to a podcast 303 did with Dave a couple of weeks ago: https://303endurance.libsyn.com/dave-hagen-flc-cycling

My experience with Fort Lewis had been awesome. My oldest daughter Erin had a good senior year in The Colorado High School Cycling League and with aspirations of continuing her racing career she enrolled to Fort Lewis with a little “deal” that made her feel like she had gotten a full ride to Stanford. After an encouraging win in her first “B” race, disaster struck on a glazed over bridge in Snowmass during the CU race and a pesky back injury was reignited and her form was never the same. She went on to race road, cross and track. Around her senior year the bike racing fire was burning low but a keen interest in business and economics had been spawned in the classroom in both Durango and Heidelberg, Germany where she studied a semester and for the first time in her life was not a student athlete but an exchange student. She, like her other friends from Fort Lewis Cycling all came back to Denver and landed killer jobs right-away, against candidates from big-time schools. It was fairly obvious to me that the Fort Lewis Cycling attachment to the resume was moving the needle in cycling crazy Colorado where in all likelihood, the hiring person has a $5,000 or more bike. 

Dave showed up to ride the local trails in racing form. Weighing in at a lean 145lbs, Dave humored me and was the perfect guest, resisting the urge to buzz my rear tires when I was lagging. It turned out the biggest challenge of the morning was finding a place open for breakfast after the ride! I-Hop, Village Inn and Einstein’s were all closed! Locally owned Atlas Coffee to the rescue where the only people looking more fit than Dave were the cross-fit Barista’s! If a brawl ever breaks out at Atlas coffee I’m hopping in back of the counter and have them defend me. 

Our conversation was about the challenges facing College athletics in general, even Stanford had to cut programs, but more specifically about an action item pertaining to this new reality. How can Fort Lewis transition the incredibly popular and profitable program and replace the big fund raiser, The Fall Blaze cycling event which was cancelled.  “The Plan” was to have a virtual Fall Blaze with a open air / responsible gathering apre in Durango and Golden on 9/26/2020 as a means of mobilizing the former Fort Lewis racers and alumni in the Front Range and their Durango brethren. It’s a pretty safe bet that these Fort Lewis Skyhawk alumni have “Spread their Wings” (that’s a Fort Lewis insider saying if you want to act cool and drop that one at the Brew Pub) parts unknown around the world, and hopefully they will participate. 

I had 5 Questions to ask Dave once the Food and coffee kicked in.

Dirt Journal : With the budget cuts and the general uncertainty of College Athletics what is Fort Lewis Cycling’s Plan moving forward?

Dave Hagen: We have optimized and cut expenses wherever possible. That included putting Track and BMX on hiatus this year. We’ve seen over 1,000 kids go through this program. In addition to the racing alumni there are countless others like yourself…that had a positive interaction with our program. We are now reaching out to all those people that have been impacted and we are asking them to dig in…just like Mountain Bikers do on a tough climb…and play a small part in having our program more self-funded and self sufficient so we can continue to do what we do.

Dirt Journal: Tell we Front Range riders about the importance of the Fall Blaze event.

Dave Hagen: It’s a huge fund raiser and unifying event for the program. It’s a road tour of Durango, but more importantly it’s an event that really symbolized how important our partnership with the community is and that in turn brings out all the good things Durango stands for. Ironically, we feel we can make Lemon aid out of Lemons and appeal to a much larger universe of any and everybody that knows and values our program. The virtual Fall Blaze will allow us to stretch our wings. (I warned you!)

Dirt Journal: Describe the format?

Dave Hagen: There will be a base entry fee and some fundraising goal levels that will allow individual contributors to win prizes for certain levels. Since this in theory will be a worldwide event, we will encourage everybody to send in pictures of their own Fall Blaze. Prizes for best photo, most exotic location and farthest photo will get prizes. There is no set limit on your ride. Road, Cross, Mountain, Townie…If you register you’ll get a racer plate so the world knows you are supporting The Fort Lewis Skyhawk Cycling Program on 9/26/2020. Register here: www.durangofallblaze.com

Here is the news release for all the details on the Fall Blaze:

Virtual Durango Fall Blaze heats up September 26, 2020 

The FLC cycling program is thrilled to announce that the 13th annual Durango Fall Blaze and Cycling Celebration presented by Morehart Murphy Subaru launches September 26, 2020. This beloved event will be hosted virtually this year, hitting the streets of, well, anywhere in the world in support of student athletes on the nationally ranked Skyhawks cycling team. Riders will join the FLC community, current FLC cycling team, FLC cycling alum, and the Durango community for an unforgettable day of riding to raise money for the FLC cycling program.  

The ride of the season kicks off on Saturday, September 26 at 9 a.m. Riders of all abilities are invited to choose from road, mountain, gravel, BMX, tandem, e-bike, townie, Peloton, or any other cycling mode, and head out on any-distanced ride, wherever they may be. Riders can compete for the most miles ridden, most vertical gained, and most vertical lost (lift-served access, anyone?) by joining the Durango Fall Blaze Strava Club (https://www.strava.com/clubs/durangofallblaze) for a bit of friendly competition to win one of three Osprey hip hydration packs. Besides sharing glimpses of rides in Durango, Golden, Montpellier, Milan, and beyond, the best photos posted on Instagram with #durangofallblaze and @rockymounts will also be entered to win one of two Rocky Mounts hitch racks.   

Registration for the Fall Blaze is $50 with a suggested $200 fundraising pledge. The first 100 folks to fundraise $100 will receive a four-ounce bottle of tire sealant from Orange Seal, while Optic Nerve sunglasses are up for grabs for the first 150 people reaching the $200 goal. Registrants will receive a personal fundraising link to share with friends, family, and employers so everyone has an opportunity to support this one-of-a-kind campaign.  

Register at www.durangofallblaze.com by September 13 to receive a custom number plate for Blaze day. The first 500 people to register will also get a Fall Blaze neck gaiter provided by Champion System. All proceeds benefit FLC cycling program operations and scholarships.  

While the spirit of the FLC cycling program spins around fun, the racing team boasts 24 national championship titles in USA Collegiate Cycling Division I disciplines, featuring some of the top young cyclists in the country. Due to major budget cuts, the 2020 Track and BMX programs are temporarily on hold.  

“We’ve seen over 1000 kids go through this program in the 16 years I’ve been here. We are asking everyone to dig in and play a part in ensuring this incredible program is more self-sufficient, so we can continue to do what we do,” says Dave Hagen, FLC cycling head coach.  

The Durango Fall Blaze is made possible thanks to this year’s sponsors Morehart Murphy Subaru, the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, Orange Seal, Baird Wealth Management, Optic Nerve, 303cycling, Zia Taqueria, Fort Lewis College, FLC Skyhawks cycling, Champion System, Osprey, and Rocky Mounts. 

For more information, please visit www.durangofallblaze.com or email hagen_d@fortlewis.edu

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