Tuesday, November 23, 2010

To the Caribbean Ocean- Day 4

On the last day of La Ruta, we actually got to "sleep in" since the stage didn't start until 7 am. We still had to be up for a 5 am breakfast of rice, beans, and scrambled eggs. Yum yum, just what I crave in the morning!! It was absolutely pouring when we were standing on the starting line, and the controlled start was pretty sketchy on the wet pavement. We still had some pretty steep dirt-road climbing for about 40 km, before the final downhill and flat 80 km section.

The standings were pretty much set for the general classification, unless there was a major mechanical. There was about 30 minutes between me and Angela, and another 30 to Rebecca, but you never know what can happen, so I still worked hard to make sure I stayed with Angela on all the climbs. She is a really strong rider, and does most of her climbing out of the saddle. We crested the final climb together and had 2 other guys with us, one was her teammate....

On the downhill it was again pouring rain, and it was hard to see with and without glasses on. from all the dirty water splashing. The rest of the race was pretty slow and easy for the most part. I clearly had no chance of breaking away from Angela and her teammate, so we pretty much rode the rest of the stage together. At one point I left them behind on the railroad tracks, but as soon as we hit a dirt road they worked hard to catch up again. It was quite annoying that they had 3 support vehicles next to them, handing her buddy drinks and food... She couldn't take any, but apparently he didn't care that he was breaking the rules. It was kind of funny when one of their cars got stuck in one of the rocky rivers :-)

We finished off the last hour riding on a dirt-road paralleling the Caribbean ocean. After the hurricane some of the puddles were so deep the water covered my whole tire. Luckily I only fell over once!!

Rebecca and me with our cool hand carved trophies and La Ruta coffee

It was great finishing on the beach. After parking my bike, I went straight in to the ocean!!

I think the La Ruta organization did a great job this year trying to make sure it is a fair race for ALL riders. I am sure by reinforcing the rules, this race will continue to attract high-level international riders as well as Costa Ricans.

Lico (3), Ben (winner), Alex (2), Rebecca, and me.

Cracking Down on Outside Support

The start of Day 3 was very interesting. After the presentation of the leaders' jerseys, Pipa announced that one of the top riders would be disqualified from the race because of receiving outside support. According to the rules, riders are not allowed support except for at some of the checkpoints. No more handing out drinks or food through car windows or even having a support vehicle following racers... I think this is a fair rule. Part of mountain bike racing is taking care of yourself as well as of your bike. It makes a huge difference if someone is there to hand you food and drink or clothing the whole day, you don't have to think at all... This has been a big problem in the past, and it seems part of the culture of La Ruta, but in order to make it fair to international racers, the organizers are finally cracking down on racers breaking the rules!!

The announcement started a big uproar, and some of the riders in the front, including Angela Parra (whose husband was getting DQed) turned their bikes sideways, blocking all racers from crossing the start line. SO LAME!!! After a couple of minutes, Ben Sontag, in his leader jersey, dropped his bike and grabbed the microphone. He was clearly angry and stated that he had come La Ruta to race a fair race and that people should follow the rules and not cheat. AWESOME!!! So, the race was on again!!!

I had forgotten that Day 3 also has some pretty steep hills. I felt pretty good going up the volcano and reached the top (almost 10,000 feet) in just over 3 hrs. It was misty and windy at the top, but pretty mild compared to previous years! I found out I was about 4 minutes behind Angela at the top. I stopped briefly at the checkpoint to fill up some water and grab a banana, I knew there was still more climbing to come.

The down-hill of the volcano was in surprisingly good shape. The weather had been dry the past few days, which made the rocky sections easier to ride. This day finishes with a really long paved descent which is super fun. You still have to be somewhat careful, because there are cars, dogs, and people all over the roads. I was very close to running over a chicken coming around a turn at one point.

Interviewed by Wendi Johnson at the finish of Day 3

I finished less than 1.5 minutes behind Angela Parra today, so I was really happy with my effort. Rebecca was in 3nd again.

Day 2- La Ruta

Had a really good race on day 2 of La Ruta. Today's stage was 47 miles with about 10,000 feet of climbing. A Costa Rican won the men's category followed by Ben Sonntag and Alex Grant riding for Cannondale. In the Women's category, Angela Parra from Colombian won again, but today I was only 3.5 minutes behind. Rebecca Rusch was in 3rd, 10 min behind me.

Today's stage involved some extremely steep climbing, over 30% grade for 2 miles straight. Part of the steep climbing was on concrete with big rocks thrown in so the cars can have some traction. It is super bumpy and hard to climb, even in your granny gear. The course was changed within the last few days, because the hurricane Tomas has damaged the original course and it was unridable because of slides. It was a little tough with the course change, because we had no map, so no real idea of where the checkpoints or climbs were, but that is part of La Ruta :-)

Checkpoint officials

Eric is in charge of managing a check point each day with the help of 3 volunteers. 2 of his guys attend the University that sponsors La Ruta. It seems like a very challenging but fun job. They have to shop for the CP food the morning of the race (which starts at 6) and drive out without a map to find where their checkpoint is supposed to be set up. There seem to be a lot of locals around, and little kids shyly come up and ask if they can have a piece of fruit or a PB and J sandwich. When they are finished with the checkpoint, the locals are so thankful to get the left-over bananas and peanuts, nothing goes to waste here....

La Ruta de los Conquistadores 2010

Some of the Locals Asking for a Treat at Eric's Checkpoint
Day 1
Had a great (but very hard) time during Day 1 of La Ruta today. There is a strong women's field this year and the organizers are really trying to promote women's mountain biking, which is nice as women's sports in general receive very little attention in Costa Rica.
This stage is typically the longest, 69 miles with about 13,000 feet of elevation gain. After a bit of dirt road the race takes you through the Carrara, which is a jungle preserve. It is always very muddy, and this year was no exception. There is one section of about 12 km which is unridable for the most part. This year there were also many slides because of Hurricane Tomas. I was staying right behind Columbian Angela Parra, the winner of the Pan Am games as well as Costa Rica's Guanaride. Right before Checkpoint 2 Angela, myself, and 2 guys took a wrong turn where there was no marking. We just made a guess where the road split and we where wrong. After some hiking we noticed the other riders were going the other way and turned. It wasn't that far, but still annoying!! After CP 2 Angela disappeared in the distance. I was getting pretty tired and a little crampy so I settled in to my own pace.
Eric was managing the 3rd checkpoint so it was nice to get to see him while filling up my water. As all of my saltpills had turned in to powder, Eric poured a bunch of table salt in to my camelbak. Didn't taste great, but kept me from cramping the rest of the day!

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Some times it felt super hard, and other times I was feeling pretty good. Angela Parra put some serious time on me, 23 minutes to be exact. I finished in 2nd with Rebecca Rusch about 9 minutes behind me. I'm pretty happy with how the day went overall. My bike worked descent besides some minor shifting issues and a minimally functioning rear brake, but that is to be expected after the jungle!!!
There are some new rules for La Ruta this year which actually seem to be at least partially followed and enforced. No outside support besides at some of the checkpoints. Riders taking outside support on the course are supposed to be DQd.