Dale Strode
The Aspen Times

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August 4, 2013
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Power of 4 winner Ben Sonntag survives late flat in Aspen

Ben Sonntag wanted a Fat Tire, not a flat tire.

A professional mountain-bike racer from Durango, Sonntag experienced the latter before he could taste the former Saturday.

And there were four miles yet to ride in the 36-mile Power of 4 Mountain Bike Race.

Sonntag, however, managed to coax his Cannondale mountain bike, with a flat rear tire, up the last stretch of climbing on the backside of Aspen Mountain.

And he descended Ajax, albeit carefully, to win the 2013 Power of 4, crossing the finish line at the base of Aspen Mountain in 3 hours and 28 minutes — a half-hour faster than the winning time last year.

“First of all, this race is awesome. It has everything a mountain-bike marathon needs,” said Sonntag, a pro rider for the California-based American Interbanc/Cannondale team. “It’s 3 1/2 hours — perfect.”

He said the combination of climbing (9,000 feet on four ski areas) and spectacular singletrack descents made the torture test fun for the cyclists.

“Super-tough climbing and great singletrack,” Sonntag said. “I was stoked the whole way.”

Sonntag, who grew up in Germany before moving to the United States, was out front with some early company in the form of Kalan Beisel, of Colorado Springs.

The two stopped together at the halfway aid station at the base of Tiehack, right before the cyclists headed down the Tiehack bridge and across to Aspen Highlands.

But Sonntag, a former racer for Fort Lewis College in Durango, pulled ahead on the next climb, eventually winning the race in record time.

“At the end, I was really scared they would catch me,” Sonntag said, knowing he had four bumpy miles to go when his rear tire deflated.

Vail cycling legend Jay Henry closed the gap, eventually finishing second to Sonntag.

Beisel was third.

John Gaston, of Aspen, was the top local finisher. He was fourth, with Aspen teenager and defending champion Keegan Swirbul finishing fifth.

Aspen Mountain ski patroller Max Taam finished sixth. He teamed with Gaston to win the winter edition of the same four-mountain traverse — the Power of 4 Ski Mountaineering Race.

Taam will attempt the Power of 4 summer double today: He’s scheduled to run the 50-kilometer trail race and retrace the route from Aspen to Snowmass via Highlands and Buttermilk/Tiehack.

Gretchen Reeves, a former standout adventure racer from Avon, won the women’s Power of 4 Mountain Bike Race on Saturday, finishing in 4 hours, 15 minutes.

She won $750 for victory, as did Sonntag.

Boulder’s Blair Hurst was second to Reeves in the women’s solo division.

Neither had ridden the course before Saturday’s race.

“I’ve never ridden this before, and it was really challenging, which I love,” Reeves said. “I did the ski race in the winter, so I knew basically where the course was going.”

Hurst’s only experience on the course was on the Government Trail section from Snowmass to Buttermilk, which she rode with friends a few years ago.

“Other than that, I didn’t know the course,” Hurst said. “I have skied here a lot. But I didn’t know the (mountain bike) trails.”

But she said she knew what was in store for the fourth and final climb up the back of Aspen Mountain.

“We skinned up Little Annie’s last winter, so I knew it was a long way up there,” Hurst said, adding that the bell-ringing girls at the top of Ajax helped push her over the top.

“They saved me,” she said of the bell choir near the Sundeck.

She and Reeves both said the recent rains made the trail conditions superb for Saturday’s race.

“The trails were really nice. It wasn’t dusty at all,” Hurst said.

Swirbul, the race’s defending champion, said he knew it was going to be a fast day when Sonntag, Henry and Beisel showed up at the starting line along with Gaston and Taam.

“I kind of knew they would probably (crush) me,” said Swirbul, 17. “But they didn’t know the course, so I thought it would be harder for them.”

But their pace was torrid from the start, he said.

Swirbul worked into fourth place when he passed Gaston on the final climb.

“I thought I had him. But he blew past me on the downhill,” Swirbul said. “He was flying.”

Still, Swirbul said it was a thrill to race with the big-dog pros.

He’s scheduled for a couple more mountain-bike races before he “rests up for the ski season.”

Swirbul is a senior at Aspen High School and a top-ranked cross-country ski racer.

The first two-rider team to finish Saturday’s mountain bike race was the Aspen coed duo of Rachel Hadley and Charlie Eckart.

Hadley is a former winner of the Power of 4; she finished second in the solo category last year.

But for men’s runnner-up Henry, Saturday’s race was more than fun and competition. It was a throwback.

“When I got into mountain biking in the ’90s, this is what we did every race. A cross-country race; 31/2 hours. You don’t get to race like that so much anymore.”

At least not until the 2014 Power of 4 Mountain Bike Race.

Full race results will be available on the Aspen Skiing Co. website (www.aspen snowmass.com). Skico is the sponsor of the Power of 4.

dstrode@aspentimes.com


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