Pedal to the mettle |

Pedal to the mettle

Jon Maletz
The Aspen Times
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Contributed photoAspen's Anne Gonzales powers to the finish to win 2009's International Cycling Union Mountain Bike Masters World Championships in France.

Anne Gonzales calls it the turning point.

In August 2005, she traveled to Leadville to watch a friend’s husband, fellow Aspenite Ted MacBlane, compete in the Leadville Trail 100. It was Gonzales’ introduction to the famed “Race Across The Sky.”

The experience left an indelible impression.

“It’s unbelievable,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “It’s one of those races where you go and you watch and you just kind of get sucked in.”

After a period of great personal tumult, Gonzales finally experienced a moment of clarity, a renewed sense of purpose.

“I left there thinking to myself, ‘I want to do this race. I’m going to do this race,'” the Aspen Mountain patroller and fire department volunteer said.

“I just said, ‘Make it to the start, and I am golden. Even if I ride 2 miles.'”

Gonzales admits the goal was ambitious. After all, she still was dealing with complications from a 2004 hysterectomy, an ordeal that found her checking in and out hospitals for more than two years.

Still, Gonzales was optimistic – so much so that she went ahead and entered the Leadville Trail 100 anyway.

She had her final surgery in March 2006. About five months later, she was at the starting line.

“To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what was going to happen. … I wasn’t a bike racer during all that time. I liked to run and ride and have been an athlete my whole life, but I wasn’t at race form,” Gonzales said. “I was just hoping to get 50 miles in, just getting off the start line and saying ‘OK, I achieved my goal.’ I really didn’t have any expectations.”

Gonzales defied the odds. She wound up pedaling across the finish line.

“It’s daunting to ride 100 miles. I hardly ever ride that far on my road bike, much less a mountain bike,” she said. “To finish was one of my better accomplishment at that time, considering the things I was going through at that time.

“That changed everything. … After that, I’ve been going full steam ahead.”

In recent years, Gonzales has distinguished herself as one of the top female mountain bikers in the country. She captured gold at 2009’s International Cycling Union Mountain Bike Masters World Championships in France.

This summer alone, she won a masters national title in Sun Valley, Idaho, and has competed on the Mountain States Cup and Aspen Cycling Club circuits. She recently took fourth in the open division at Steamboat Springs’ Honey Stinger 50 – finishing behind a group that included pros and past Olympians, no less.

“It was an impressive field of women,” said Gonzales, a Seal Beach, Calif., native who moved to Aspen as a teenager. “I was really honored to be where I was.”

Now comes the summer’s stiffest test. Saturday, Gonzales will take part in her fifth Leadville Trail 100.

Last year, Gonzales crossed the finish in 8 hours, 45 minutes, 46 seconds – good for 89th out of more than 1,000 competitors. Things went “really smoothly,” she recalled.

That has not always been the case.

“I’ve had what they call ‘bonked,’ where you just feel like I can’t spin the pedals and really don’t think straight,” Gonzales said. “It’s kind of scary to feel like your muscles cannot pedal you around anymore and you won’t make it to the checkpoint. It gets a little daunting when you go ‘Oh, god, I’ve gone 75 miles and I have 25 more to go.’

“I do feel good right now – I’m more fit now at 50 than I have been my whole life. I feel like I’ve done my homework.”

Gonzales has been diligent in her preparation. Her summer work as a landscaper has allowed her the flexibility to compete around the country and to log all-important training sessions at high altitude.

Last weekend, she rode 35 miles of the Colorado Trail, near Copper Mountain. She also has ridden to Twin Lakes and back, a journey of nearly 75 miles that includes about 7,000 feet of climbing and, like the Leadville Trail, tops out at more than 12,000 feet.

She is hoping to finish in 8 1/2 hours Saturday.

“I’m just hoping the stars align and the weather holds up for us,” Gonzales said. “I set a goal I think I can achieve. It just depends on, you know, the mechanics and how you feel.”

She jokingly added: “I don’t want to be on the bike longer than that.”

As for how long she’ll continue competing, Gonzales shows no signs of slowing. Talk of competing in Leadville 10 times even has been bandied about.

“I’ve never been committed to one sport like I am now. … Things have evolved and it’s been really good for me. My body seems to be able to go the distance,” Gonzales said.

“I like being able to see what I can do. … I’ve raised two children and I know how hard life can be. This is kind of the next chapter.”

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