Vail Valley rider Alex Gonzalez gets first win as pro enduro racer
TOP FIVE PRO RESULTS
Vail Outlier Enduro, Sunday, Oct. 1
Men’s Pro Open
1 Alex Gonzalez 17:23.713
2 Austin Hackett-Klaube 17:29.647
3 Mike West 17:32.302
4 Nate Hills 17:32.986
5 Steve Wentz 17:43.737
Women’s Pro Open
1 Cooper Ott 19:56.210
2 Becky Gardner 20:04.804
3 Erin Huck 20:55.430
4 Jackie Shea 21:47.913
5 Karen Jarchow 21:59.167
VAIL — It’s pretty safe to say Alex Gonzalez is going to spend a lot of time in the gym this winter.
The Battle Mountain High School class of 2007 graduate notched his first pro-division win on his mountain bike Sunday, Oct. 1, at the Vail Outlier enduro competition, which was likely his last race of the season as the days grow shorter.
Competing against a tough field, Gonzalez said if there were any race he might have a chance of winning this season, then it would be the Outlier, which takes place on Vail Mountain, a place he calls home. Gonzalez had to take down some tough competitors to ride away with the win; one name you might recognize is Nate Hills, who made a name for himself as the Big Mountain Enduro series champion in 2013 when the sport was starting to become popular in the U.S.
“He’s well known in the industry and the media, he makes bike videos every weekend and you’ll always see him featured in different stuff around the world,” Gonzalez said. “When I saw he was competing along with Mike West and some of the other guys, I knew I’d have to ride my best to be in the podium. I’ve never beat any of those guys before.”
Hills helped introduce Gonzalez to enduro racing when he started making a name for the sport in the U.S. in 2013.
“I think around 2008 or 2009 they started racing down the mountain on trail bikes in Europe,” Gonzalez said. “But I first heard about it three or four years ago. I thought it might fit my style of riding well, but didn’t I didn’t try racing until last year.”
Enduro racing is a form of downhill mountain biking, but competitors still have to get themselves up to the top of the track on their bikes to compete. For this reason, the sport uses a bike that’s a combination of a cross-country bike and a downhill bike, where the frame is still light weight but the suspension has a lot more room to travel. Often times the races take place over several stages, with the downhill portions being the only applicable times, added up for a cumulative time which determines the winner.
“It’s definitely more of my style of racing,” Gonzalez said. “I was never as fast in the cross-country riding.”
Competing for the first time in 2016, Gonzalez won the GoPro Mountain Games enduro and the Vail Outlier enduro in the amateur classes.
“I was getting faster, so the only way to keep challenging myself was to enter the pro class,” Gonzalez said.
Many new mountain bike racers were riding for a long time before they decided to try competing, but Gonzalez himself just picked up the sport four years ago. Before that, he was a semi-pro motorcross racer.
“I did see a lot of similarities in the two sports,” Gonzalez said. “Right away, I just loved enduro racing.”
‘MADE IN THE OFFSEASON’
At the beginning of this season, Gonzalez knew the only race he might have a shot at winning was the Vail Outlier. He knew it was at the end of the season, when he would be his strongest, and he also knew he’d have a lot of time to prepare on the Vail Mountain course, even if he didn’t know exactly what that course would be. Part of the lure of enduro racing is the courses aren’t announced ahead of time, so competitors can’t spend weeks preparing.
“I’ve been going to Vail Mountain every weekend, just getting to know the trails,” Gonzalez said.
As a pro, he has received a little help, but not much, and was never sure how much longer he would be able to do it. Now energized from the win, Gonzalez says he thinks he could have a long future in the sport as a professional.
And at 28, he was quite a bit younger than some of the guys surrounding him in the top five on Sunday. West is 44 and finished third, and Hills, now 40, finished fourth.
“I really look up to those guys,” Gonzalez said. “They just show you that as long as you ride smart and don’t wrap yourself around a tree, you can have a long career in this sport.”
Gonzalez said it was a dream come true to show Hill that they belong at the top of the field together.
“He’s pretty much my favorite rider, I always watch his videos and look at him as a role model” Gonzalez said. “I’m very grateful that I got the opportunity to compete against him, and especially to land on top. I think a lot of those guys didn’t think I was that fast. I’ve been chasing them all season long. After the race I just went for an easy pedal, and just teared up a bit thinking about how rewarding it was and everything it took, buying pretty much all my own equipment, taking some bad crashes and trying to stay positive.”
With his first big win coming at the last opportunity this season, Gonzalez said he’s never felt so charged heading into an offseason.
“I’ll probably go out to the desert a lot to ride, but most of all I’m just going to spend a lot of time in the gym,” he said. “I’m going to just try to get faster and stronger and start sending my resume out to some sponsors. … They say champions are made in the offseason so I’m going to give it my all this winter.”