John Gaston wins Power of Four mountain bike race despite crash |

John Gaston wins Power of Four mountain bike race despite crash

John Gaston won the race, but Aspen Mountain certainly won the day.

Soon after being the first to cross the finish line at the base of Ajax Saturday in the Audi Power of Four mountain bike race, Gaston fell to the ground and asked for medical help. He was whisked to the hospital where he found out he had four broken ribs and a collapsed lung from a crash midway through his final descent.

"I didn't want to work that hard all day and then get hurt and have nothing to show for it," Gaston said in a phone interview with The Aspen Times on Saturday after returning home from the hospital. "As I got further down the mountain, I realized I was even more messed up than I originally thought and that I definitely needed some medical attention. But at the same time, the fastest way to get any medical attention is to get to the finish line."

On a shortened course compared to previous years, the 30-year-old Gaston finished the race in 2 hours, 59 minutes, 9.3 seconds, almost exactly four minutes ahead of Durango pro Benjamin Sonntag, 37, and more than 14 minutes ahead of Colorado Springs' J.J. Clark, 45.

Aspen's Gaston, a noted ski mountaineer who co-founded Strafe Outerwear alongside his brother Pete, had also won the Power of Four mountain bike race in 2015, the last time it was held. The 2016 race was canceled due to a storm the night before.

While Saturday's race ended in a more memorable fashion than the 2015 version for Gaston, the start was more of the same. The roughly 30-mile course started in Snowmass before taking riders up and over Buttermilk, Aspen Highlands and finally Aspen Mountain. By the time they reached Highlands, Gaston and Sonntag had really started to distance themselves from the rest of the field.

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Gaston built a small but hardly comfortable lead on Sonntag by the time he started his descent of Ajax, the finish line awaiting him 3,000 feet down the mountain. Things were going smoothly until Gaston let his mind wander just enough that a rocky patch sent him flying.

"Basically my front wheel just clipped one on the side of the trail. It's still a little fuzzy exactly how the mechanics of it all worked out, but long story short I ended up tomahawking off the trail to the left," Gaston said.

"When I look back on it now, I'm extremely lucky and fortunate to not be much more hurt, because it could have been really bad to be honest. It knocked the wind out of me as bad as I've ever had the wind knocked out of me."

As he tried to regain his breath, Gaston regrouped enough to get back on his bike and finish the race. He knew Sonntag wasn't far behind and he also knew he'd get medical attention quicker by going to them, so he rode on to victory.

Agonizing victory.

"I just tried to grit my teeth and get it done. But the last five minutes of that ride I was basically at walking speed. I could barely hold on, I could barely breathe, and every bump was shattering pain," Gaston said. "It became apparent really quickly as my breath did come back that I was messed up. My right side felt fine and I could feel that lung working, but the left side was completely locked up and I couldn't get even a quarter of a breath in that lung."

Gaston missed the awards ceremony following the race, and missed out on the post-race socializing at Ajax Tavern. He'll miss a bit more as well, as the doctors said he will need about six weeks to recover. He plans to return to the hospital Sunday for another check up.

The race itself was somewhat of a last-second decision for Gaston. A newly-minted father, he knew caring for his wife and infant son would cut into his training opportunities, but felt strong enough ahead of the race that he decided to give it a go.

And, outside of his tomahawking theatrics on Ajax, was happy with how it went.

"I had an excellent race, to be honest," Gaston said. "I was really pleased with my effort on the race course and how the race went, aside from a few bobbles here and there, which happen on something that technical."

Reeves returns as women's champ

The third time was the charm for Gretchen Reeves. Not that the first two weren't.

Avon's Reeves, 45, a former pro who has more than one national championship to her name, was the top female finisher in Saturday's Power of Four mountain bike race. She completed the course in 3:47:13.3 to take 13th overall.

It was her third win in this race in three tries. She also won the 2013 and 2014 races before sitting out in 2015.

"I like it I guess," Reeves said with a laugh. "To have that much climbing in so few miles makes it really tough. The riding itself is old school. The trails are awesome, and I love coming up here. It's a great race."

Fairplay's Marlee Dixon was second among women in 3:50:41.2, while Aspen's Courtney Boyd was third in 4:19:04.2.

Also available Saturday was the Power of Two mountain bike race, which included only Snowmass and Buttermilk. The race was won by 16-year-old Carbondale resident Levi Gavette in 1:07:05.2. Carbondale's Ian Catto, 17, was second in 1:08:49.1 and Basalt's Whitton Feer, 17, third in 1:09:34.3.

Snowmass resident Federica Pelayo was the only woman to compete in the Power of Two race, finishing in 3:20:08.6.

Joe Gray continues dominance in Vertical K

Not wanting to ruin the theme of repeat winners, Colorado Springs resident Joseph Gray held off Arizona's Mike Popejoy to win Saturday's Vertical K foot race up Aspen Mountain. Gray finished his ascent of Ajax in 38 minutes, 20.3 seconds, while Popejoy finished in 41:00.9 and Oregon's Devin Vanscoy in 44:19.1 for third.

This was Gray's third straight Vertical K victory in Aspen. His time of 37:04.4 from 2016 is considered the course record, a number he wasn't trying to match this year.

"I wasn't going for it. Today was all about getting out here and competing, going for the win," said Gray, a well-established trail runner. "I've had a lot of big races lately, so definitely wasn't trying to do anything crazy. Just wanted to compete."

Littleton's Kristin Renshaw finished in 56:56.4, taking the top spot in a small women's field. She was followed closely by runner-up Jackie Harlow of Boulder in 57:54.3. South Carolina's Sarah Hansel was third in 1:05:30.9.

The Power of Four Race Series continues Sunday with the event's signature race, the 50k Ultra, which starts at the base of Aspen Mountain and finishes in Snowmass Village. As with the Vertical K, the 50k race is part of the Altra U.S. Skyrunner Series.

Along with Sunday’s 50k, there is a 25k and 10k race, all finishing in Snowmass. An awards ceremony is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on Fanny Hill.