The spirit of Benjamin Sonntag has lived on through his friends. It was evident on the one-year anniversary of his tragic death.
Thursday marked one year since Sonntag, a beloved professional cyclist from Germany who long had called Durango home, was struck and killed by a motorist while riding his bicycle in southwest La Plata County on a dirt road in the town of Marvel. He was 39 years old.
Known for his big smile, laugh and infectious positive attitude, a somber day transformed into a beautiful display of people who embodied the motto of “Live Like Ben.”
“The German definitely wouldn’t have wanted everyone to be down in the dumps on this day,” said longtime friend and Team CLIF Bar Cycling teammate Troy Wells. “He would have wanted them to remember the happy times and just be positive instead of dwelling on his passing. If they could, he would want people to go out and enjoy being outside.”
Some went for a bike ride, stepped into skis or went for a run. They started their morning with an espresso or ordered up Sonntag’s favorite Southwest Turkey sandwich with chipotle sauce on the side from RGP’s Flame Grilled Wraps.
The Fort Lewis College cycling team, of which Sonntag was an alum, dedicated a team group ride in Utah to Sonntag’s memory. The Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, which Sonntag regularly competed in each spring in Durango, also encouraged people to get outside and do an activity with a smile on their face.
“A champion on the bike, but an even bigger champion in the community,” the IHBC said. “A competitor on the trails but a loving friend across the finish line. Ben was an amazing friend, mentor and teammate to many, and he continues to be a shining light in our community.”
CLIF Bar athletes remembered their fallen teammate and shared how he had been in their thoughts all year.
“I think of Ben while XC skiing the most,” wrote Katerina Nash, a CLIF athlete from the Czech Republic who, like Sonntag, first came to the U.S. for a college cross-country skiing scholarship. “We were cycling teammates, but we both loved skiing as well. Somehow Ben is always gliding along especially on those perfect and sunny days. His smile and memories are still with me and I hope to #livelikeben forever.”
It was a turbulent year for the cycling community following Sonntag’s death with races canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of that, the mountain bike community at large hasn’t had an opportunity to gather to honor Sonntag before or after a race. They hope that changes soon.
“Since his passing, I often wonder how Ben would’ve dealt with much of the adversity the world has faced that he wasn’t around for,” said professional mountain biker Russell Finsterwald of Colorado Springs, another of the Team CLIF members. “It’s reminded me that a big smile and good attitude can get you through anything.”
Cordell Schneider, who was 19 at the time of the accident, was the driver of the truck that crashed into Sonntag on County Road 105 shortly before noon on March 4, 2020. It was estimated he was traveling 65 mph in a 35 mph zone when he lost control of the truck.
Schneider pleaded not guilty to vehicular homicide and reckless driving charges. He is scheduled to appear in court Friday in a pre-trial conference. A jury trial is scheduled to start March 22, though it could be delayed during Friday’s conference.