Wednesday, November 18, 2009

La Ruta de los Conquistadores

Me and our host Federico Escalante at the starting line Day 1 of La Ruta

After missing my favorite race La Ruta de los Conquistadores last year due to a broken foot, I was really looking forward to racing again. This was my 6th time racing La Ruta!!

After lots of rain, the Carrara (the national park that goes through rainforest) was the muddiest I have seen it. Although the race organizers had re-routed part of the course we hiked through deep mud for a couple of hours. The wheels got clogged up instantly if you didn't carry your bike on your back. I was in second place when we entered the mud, and after a couple of hours I could spot Adriana Rojas, the Costa Rican woman who was in first. She was really strong, and I lost her when we got back on "normal trail". The first day was 64.5 miles with 10,300 feet of elevation gain. I definitely didn't feel my best and at the end I lost over 10 minutes to Adriana! My time was 7 hrs 12 minutes for the day.

Day 2 featured some of the steepest climbing I have ever done, maybe THE steepest. The first climb of the day was a gravel road with 5 or 6 paved corners. The pavement had big rocks in it and was definitely not level. When I looked down at my Garmin, it said 30% and then I was going so slow it turned off!!! I was able to ride the whole section, but sometimes it seemed like it would have been faster to walk. I finally caught Adriana near the top of the last climb and then was able to put a couple of minutes on her on the technical down-hill. Day 2 was 44.5 miles with over 10,000 feet of climbing!!! I finished in 4 hrs 58 minutes.

La Ruta Legend Heart Akerson finishes day 2 with a smile on his face
Heart was way off course when a local guy spotted him and gave him directions back to the race. Heart finished the day in the dark!

Day 3 goes up the volcano Irazo and has a top altitude of over 10, 000 feet. Since we had to be shuttled to the start-line we had to be up at 3:30 again for a 6 am start. I had forgotten how steep the beginning of this day was.... I felt pretty good during this climb and reached the top in a little under 3 hrs. It was a quite chilly on the way down, really foggy and drizzly. After riding through water and mud I didn't take the time to lube my chain because I was trying gain as much time as possible on the rocky down-hill. When I chain-sucked my chain got caught between the big ring and chain-stay and for some reason I had a hard time trying to pull it out. Luckily I finally succeeded and that was actually my only "mechanical" during the entire race, so I can't really complain.

The rest of the down-hill was on wet pavement in the fog and I was taking it pretty easy because I didn't want to crash or miss a turn! I was happy with my day. I finished in first place with a time of 4 hrs 52 minutes. A couple of times I had to stop and ask some locals for the right way...

End of Day 3

Adriana Rojas was still in the overall lead by 4 min 50 seconds with only 1 day left of racing. I thought my only chance to make up the time would be on one of the 2 climbs in the beginning of the day, because the rest of the day is all down-hill or flat.

Me and Heart at the starting line of Day 4

It had rained all night before the start, and it was still raining in the morning. Luckily it wasn't cold. The rain actually felt good as we started riding. We had a long neutral start out of the town of Turrialba. I am usually not very speedy in the beginning of a race (old age), but I was doing my best to keep from getting dropped by the front group. As we started climbing, I knew I was going to have a strong day despite sore and tired legs. I was in a group with Adriana and 5 or 6 men when we reached the first check-point at the top of the first climb. The second climb of the day is on steep gravel and I was able to leave the rest of the group behind. Unfortunately there is a long, gradual paved down-hill after the climb and 3 of the guys caught me. I had no idea how far Adriana was behind me, but I assumed she was right behind the guys, so I sprinted across the first rail road bridge with my bike on my shoulder.

I was able to hook up with 2 other racers on the flats. One was Cory Wallace who rides for Kona. He had some kind of derailleur issue and that's why he was riding near me, he had been racing in the front the first few days. Cory had to stop several times because his chain kept falling off, but he had no problem catching back up. Cory and I lost the other rider at one of the bridges. He was a little nervous walking on the slippery trestles, especially after I almost knocked him over one time. I was wondering if Cory thought I was going to have a heart attack I was breathing so hard trying to stay on his wheel. Meanwhile he looked like he was out for a easy spin...

The last 2 hrs were a combination of rail road trestles and riding through flooded gravel roads paralleling the beach. It rained the entire time. The puddles were deep enough to reach over my bottom bracket, and sometimes we just had to get off and wade through knee deep water.

When I finally crossed the finish-line I knew I had done the best I could that day, but I wasn't sure that I had made up the near 5 minutes. It was a nervous few minutes standing by the finish line hoping Adriana wasn't going to show up. Despite a crappy first day, I was able to recover and win La Ruta for the 4th time! I was so happy to end my year with a La Ruta win!!

This guy lost his saddle during the race, and used a coconut for a seat!!!

Eric and Karen, the official time keepers, had to work long hard hours in the rain.

Many thanks to Roman, Pipa, and all the La Ruta volunteers for making this another great event.
Thanks to my favorite time keepers, Karen Harrison and ERIC (also my favorite mechanic :-)
Thank You so much to my awesome sponsors Magura, Kenda, and PTLG
Federico for being a wonderful host and taking such good care of us while in Costa Rica!