John Gaston pedals to Power of Four win
The Aspen Times
Super John Gaston of Aspen pedaled away from the field Saturday morning to win the 2015 Power of Four Mountain Bike Race.
Gaston, who has finished second twice in the mountain bike torture test, won the event for the first time with a dominating ride in the Aspen Skiing Co. race — much like he has dominated the winter Power of Four Ski Mountaineering Race.
Gaston crossed the finish line at the base of Aspen Mountain in 3 hours, 44 minutes, 50 seconds. He immediately struggled to step off of his bike because of severe cramping in his right leg, which refused to bend for several minutes as he stretched in the finish area near the base of the gondola.
Veteran mountain bike racer J.J. Clark of Colorado Springs finished second, 7 minutes behind Gaston.
Evelyn Dong of Golden, a pro mountain biker, won the women’s race in 4:26:50.
Aspen’s Annie Gonzales finished second in 4:48:30 with Alexis Skarda of Grand Junction, the early women’s race leader, in third place.
Gonzales is a longtime Aspen ski patroller and endurance athlete.
Skarda is a former collegiate national champion mountain bike racer at Colorado Mesa University, where she was an All-American cross country runner before turning to bike racing.
With slight course revisions because of lift construction at Snowmass Ski Area, the Power of Four route this year measured 35 miles with 8,150 feet of elevation gain and 8,550 feet of descent.
“Alexis and I were together for the first bit,” Dong said. “She actually dropped me going up the first and second climbs. Then, I would pedal back up to her.”
Dong, a cross country ski coach and former Nordic racer, said she started to ease away when Skardal slowed.
“She had some cramping issues, and I rode away from her at that point,” Dong, 30, said.
The relentless final climb up Midnight Mine Road on the back of Aspen Mountain was the most difficult section, she said.
“That last climb, it was hard to keep focused,” the first-year pro mountain bike racer said.
Gaston, the men’s overall winner, agreed.
“I had started cramping a little bit toward the top of Highlands,” Gaston said. “And right when I hit Midnight Mine (Road), it was like instant lock-up.”
With a big lead heading up the fourth of the Aspen ski areas, Gaston said he had to reassess his race as he struggled to keep his legs turning.
“I had to turn it back and ride my own pace … and hope the rest of them were feeling like I was,” said Gaston, 28.
Pedal stroke by pedal stroke in his smallest gear, he made his way to the top of Ajax.
But, he said, the descent with leg cramps was complicated.
“It sucked,” he said. “I was trying to sit down on the downhill. But you can’t go fast sitting down.”
Instead, he said he found an awkward position over the main tube where he could stretch his cramping leg.
“I just had to focus … no big risks on the (final downhill),” Gaston said.
After a wreck on the Congo Trail derailed his race last year, Gaston was determined to stay upright to the finish Saturday.
“I’ve never won a race with competition this fast,” Gaston said. “This state has a bunch of great mountain bikers.”
Gaston’s ski mountaineering teammate Max Taam was in the finish area Saturday after helping at Gaston’s feed zones earlier in the day.
“John’s the most motivated guy I know,” Taam said. “He puts the motivation to work training, racing and in race prep. It’s his motivation and focus.”
In short, Taam said, Gaston can make himself suffer.
“And he’s an incredible technical rider,” Taam said.
Gaston won the men’s first-place prize of $750 Saturday.
Likewide, Dong won the women’s top prize of $750 with her victory in the Audi Power of Four Mountain Bike Race.
“Don’t I get an Audi?” Dong asked in jest.