Winning bikers repeat in Power of Four

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Ben Sonntag of Durango rolls across the finish line at the base of Aspen Mountain to win the 2014 Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Saturday morning. Sonntag won for his second consecutive title.

Deja vu in the summer of 2014.

Ben Sonntag and Gretchen Reeves rolled to a pair of repeat performances in the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race that finished on Aug. 2 at the base of Aspen Mountain.

Sonntag, the 2013 overall winner from Durango, outdueled two other top mountain bike racers to win his second consecutive title in the mountain bike Power of Four, sponsored by the Aspen Skiing Co.

Reeves, the 2013 women’s winner from Avon, pulled away early and dominated to win among the women Saturday morning in the mountain bike race that spanned all four ski areas in the Aspen area.

Blair Vajda of Boulder rode across in second place in the women’s division.

The mountain bikers started at 8 a.m. at Snowmass for the first climb of the day. Then, it was on to Buttermilk via the Government Trail.

The mountain bikers then had to ascend Aspen Highlands before a fast descent down across Castle Creek for the final climb up Midnight Mine Road on the back side of Aspen Mountain.

The final technical descent down the face of Aspen Mountain sent the cyclists across the finish line located adjacent to the gondola building.

That’s a total of 36 mountain bike miles and 9,000 feet of climbing.

“Today, I couldn’t have overcome a flat,” Sonntag said after winning the 2013 race on a flat rear tire. He had to ride the final three miles on his rear rim last year.

Not this year.

“It was good racing this year,” Sonntag said. “Last year, you know, I was so much on my own. But this year it was tight racing.”

Aspen enduro-star John Gaston and Avon enduro-standout Jay Henry rode with Sonntag early in the race.

Often, they would take turns at the lead.

“I didn’t feel that great. I had an upset stomach this morning,” said Sonntag, a former collegiate bike racing standout at Fort Lewis College in Durango. “I felt like Jay was climbing a bit better.”

Sonntag said he was able to make up some ground on the descents, particularly after Gaston took a head-over-the-handlebars fall on the descent of Highlands. He recovered, regrouped and still finished third.

“I got a gap on the third climb. How I did that, I have no idea,” Sonntag said with a huge smile. “You always have to have a belief, and I came here and I wanted to defend.”

He did. In near-record time.

Sonntag crossed the finish line in 3 hours 33 minutes, just off his 2013 course record of 3:28.

“A win is a win, and I’m happy to pull it off,” he said after collecting the winner’s check for $750.

Reeves won the women’s check for $750 with a Sonntag deja vu from a year earlier. She finished the race on a flat rear tire, forced to ride the last half of the descent on a rear flat.

“It was muddy to start, but I had a really good time,” said Reeves, a CPA in Avon. “It was like East Coast riding, technical, which is what I grew up doing.”

Reeves, originally from Georgia, said Saturday marked one of those days when an endurance athlete “feels really good.”

“I rode steady the whole time and didn’t look back,” she said. “I had my music on, and I was trucking away.”

She said the course forces riders to be out on their own.

“But it’s a pretty course. Government Trail was my favorite part,” the Avon mountain biker said.

Women’s runnerup Vajda likewise enjoyed the Government Trail section as well as the new Verde trail at Snowmass.

“That was my favorite,” the Boulder biker said.

She said she encountered two beautiful ptarmigan along that section of Saturday’s route.

“I was biking faster than they were flying,” Vajda said.

Earlier, the three leaders in the men’s race had another wildlife encounter on the Government Trail.

“On the first descent, I almost ran into two deer,” said Sonntag, who just returned this week from a racing stint in Europe.

He also was in Europe to help his wife — pro road cyclist Carmen Small — celebrate a hallmark in women’s cycling.

Sonntag’s wife was one of the select field of women’s cyclists to compete in the La Course race that was staged in Paris before the finish of the 2014 Tour de France last Sunday.

Small, a longtime pro cyclist, competed in the headline race considered the biggest event in the history of women’s cycling.

Superstar Marianna Voss of the Netherlands won the final sprint for the victory in Paris.

“It’s so exciting for women’s cycling. For those girls to ride the Champs-Elysees with hundreds of thousands of people watching,” Sonntag said. “It is so good for the sport in general and for women’s cycling.”

With Carmen Small racing on the women’s pro road circuit and Ben Sonntag racing on the mountain bike circuit, Sonntag said he and his wife decided to combine their race schedules this summer.

“Carmen and I don’t get to spend that much time together in the summer,” Sonntag said. “With her racing there, I wanted to go back home to Germany and do some of my (mountain bike races).”

The two trained together with Small racing on the road bike and Sonntag, a native of Germany, racing with the mountain bikers.

“We said we’ve got to make use of the time together. It was a big motivation for the both of us,” Sonntag said.

While hundreds competed solo in the Power of Four Mountain Bike Race on Saturday, others joined the race as members of two-person or four-person relay teams.

Aspen mountain biking couple Rachel and Shawn Hadley won the relay event and finished first in the coed relay division.

They finished in 4:05.

The Power of Four weekend will continue today with the 50-kilometer trail run, which will start at the base of Aspen Mountain and finish at the base of Snowmass Ski Area. The runners will take the reverse route of Saturday’s mountain bikers.

Several athletes are scheduled to double up and race again today.

Results of the weekend races will be available at www,aspen