Durango, Colorado

Population: 15,628

The San Juan Mountains, just outside Durango     Photo: PhotoDisc

My Town: Durango

"The cycling community is incredible: great group rides, great trails, great roads, and great people," says Durango resident Todd Wells, two-time U.S. cyclocross champ and 2004 mountain-bike Olympian.

One small detail from the Mountain Bike World Cup time trial that was held here five years ago will tell you all you need to know about Durango. The course ran through the Steamworks Brewing Company, entering where the front window had been removed, passing the bar, and exiting via the side patio. That's not the only clue that off-road biking trumps most other priorities in this dirthead arcadia, where the undammed Animas River flows past a backdrop of 13,000-foot-plus San Juan peaks. Photos and jerseys autographed by storied local riders—Ned Overend, Juli Furtado, Myles Rockwell—are boilerplate restaurant decor around the Victorian downtown. The Durango Coffee Company sells six different Tom Danielson blends, named for the Discovery-team rider and 2005 Tour de Georgia winner who stuck around after graduating Fort Lewis College. Indoctrination starts early: There's a junior-high mountain-bike program and a Durango Wheel Club junior development team. Already graduated? Tuesday-night group rides subdivide into levels A through C and head off for terrain that starts right in town—there's the rolling, 42-mile high-desert Horse Gulch network, the forested singletrack of 40-mile Hermosa Creek, or the steep shale of six-mile Test Track, to name a few. Fast-twitch riders fill up their calendars with weekly time trials and the brutal 48-mile, 5,700-foot-elevation-gain Iron Horse Bicycle Classic to Silverton each May.

REALITY CHECK:
With the Denver and Salt Lake City job markets both more than 300 miles away, all too many starstruck new arrivals join the ranks of advanced-degree holders who end up waiting tables.

NEXT BEST:
Moab, Utah. Why do thousands of riders pilgrimage to this onetime uranium boomtown? Because the prospectors left a thousand miles of singletrack winding over slickrock and through red-rock canyons. The 12,000-foot La Sal Mountains are an uncrowded bonus.

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