This was the 15 year anniversary of La Ruta de Los Conquistadores and to make it more memorable, the event organizers added a 4th day to the race. La Ruta still began in Jaco on the Pacific coast a little afte 5 am, but it started with fireworks going off about 30 feet from the starting line. I was racing on my brand new Progress Magic hard tail (20 lbs 14 oz) with Magura Marta SL brakes, Kenda Karma tires, and Ergon grips. My bike ROCKS!!!
According to the Costa Ricans we were very lucky with the weather because it had rained for 3 weeks straight, but the rain had now stopped. All the rain made the famously muddy climb even muddier this year. 2 hrs in to the race I got a stick caught in my chainrings and my rear derailleur was pulled into the wheel and got stuck. I was able to pull it out, but now my rear shifting didn't work at all. Luckily all the uphill was not ridable anyway and I could slide/ride the downhills. A supporter was able to help me pull the derailleur out a bit more and adjust my shifting so I could use 3 gears in the back. The first day was quite a bit shorter than last year. Instead of a really steep gravel and mud climb toward the end, we did a nice hour long road climb. I was just glad to be able to make it to the finish with my broken derailleur and I finished 2nd behind Sue Haywood, about 15 minutes back. This day was 59 miles and had 14,500 feet of climbing.
The 2nd day was the added day and we started in El Rodeo where we finished the previous day. The race was scheduled to take off at 6:30, but it took a long time for everyone to get to the start and pick up their bikes so we were delayed by 15 minutes. The mechanics had fixed a broken spoke on my bike and tried straightening the derailleur hanger as well as changed out the broken derailleur. I was a little nervous about how the bike was going to work, but the mechanics did a great job, and it was shifting perfectly! The second day was only 46 miles but still had 11,887 feet of climbing. The most memorable section of this day was a 27 km stretch of pavement that was some of the steepest pavement I have ever climbed. On this section I caught up with Sue and we rode together for a while. I tried to drop her on a couple of the less steep sections but she always caught me when it got really steep again, and then managed to drop me completely. On a flat muddy section I was riding by myself through some villages and got confused to where I was. I had not seen any markings for a while so I stopped and tried asking the locals for directions in my limited Spanish. This consisted of me just saying "bicycleta" and putting my hands up with a confused and panicked look on my face. Clearly the locals had no idea what I was saying and was instead trying to give me directions to San Jose. After a couple of minutes I fortunately ran in to a support vehicle and they confirmed that I was going in the right direction. The day finished with a crazy muddy uphill hike-a-bike section followed by the muddiest down-hill I have ever experienced. I was mostly sliding on my feet trying not to fall off the side of the trail. We finished at the Terramall in San Jose and again I was 2nd behind Sue with a time of 5 hrs 16 minutes.
Day 3 started at the Terramall just like last year, went up Irazu to over 10,000 feet and then down the vulcano where it ends in the town of Turialba. This day is the "easiest" with its 8,700 feet of climbing over 41 miles. It took me just over 3 hrs to reach the top of Irazu. I had brought with me a rain jacket but although it was sprinkling on the way down I never got cold. The down hill was in the worst condition I have seen it in my 5 years of La Ruta. The rain made some of the rocky sections a little easier to descend, but there were also sections of mud that I had a really hard time riding through. At the top of Irazu I had Sue within eyesight, but she managed to put a lot of time on me going down. I kept thinking about crashing and did not feel very confident for some reason. It seemed like a lot of people ended up in the hospital with stitches and broken bones and I did not want to be one of them!
The last day it was pouring rain in the morning while we were waiting for the bus to pick us up at the lodge. It was not very motivating to start in the rain and cold. I could not figure out what to wear, but I settled on bringing a vest and armwarmers over the rainjacket. Since we started with a 5 km gravel climb I was not cold at all although it was still misting a little. I caught Sue after a few minutes and we ended up riding almost the entire day together. I though she must be taking it easy since she knew she had the overall win by 42 minutes. I felt really good and it was fun riding with Sue, it was more like being out on a training ride with a friend than racing. People often think the last day will be the easiest one, since it has a 65 km flat section at the end. The fact that we race over railroad trestles, slippery bridges, and through knee deep water puddles still makes it tough. Sue and I rode with one other guy on the paved section which made the time go by faster. This guy kept insisting that we must be done with the rail road even though I told him we had at least an hour more of it. When we finally did hit the endless rail road trestles again, I think he was mentally defeated, because we completely dropped him. Sue claimed that it was all she could do to stay up with me. I guess it helped that I had done this stage 4 times before. I tried to get her to cross the finish line together with me, but she insisted that I had pulled her through the last section and that I deserved the win.
As usual I had a great time at La Ruta and it was an honor to finish 2nd behind Sue Haywood. We raced 222 miles across Costa Rica and climbed over 40,000 vertical feet!!