So I think La Ruta is my favorite race of the year. It doesn’t have the most single track(none). It doesn’t have the most spectators(a lot of time suffering alone in the middle of nowhere). I don’t love heights and hate walking across railroad track bridges. It is not easy. I don’t know if it’s the rawness of the race, the beauty of the country or the heart of most of the participants but there is something magical about La Ruta that I haven’t found in many races. This year’s edition proved as challenging and rewarding as ever.
I was really looking forward to this year’s LR. I had done some good training in the weeks leading up to it. The CX races in Boulder went pretty well the week before, 6th and 3rd. Not great results but I helped animate the race and was close at the end. I was prepared mentally, feeling pretty strong and only a bit over weight. The week leading up to the race things kind of fell apart, I started to feel sick and wound up hardly riding at all.
I have raced plenty of races sick and even won a National Championship or two that had I not been a racer I would have been in bed sucking down sudafed and benadryl. Those races were all relatively short and I had the option of stopping at anytime and heading back to the hotel. I had never attempted to race through a tropical jungle with no exit opportunities while feeling under the weather. I really love this race though and I was at least going to give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised on Day 1 when I was able to keep the group in site up the first climb and make contact shortly after cresting the the summit. I was also happy to hook up with Alex Grant in the jungle and sprint for second place. I was pretty disappointed to give 11 minutes to the winner that day though. I gave everything I had and knew we weren’t going to catch Marconi but I didn’t think we would lose 11 minutes at the finish.
A few K into day 1.
After finishing the stage 1 and not feeling any worse I was really looking forward to the Irazu volcano the following day. Last year I lost any chance of winning the race on that stage when I went from being within 1 minute of the lead to giving up something like 20 or 30 minutes. This year I was highly motivated but still found it impossible to stay with the leaders on the first climb, too much Nutella. I made contact near the top though with Alex and race leader Marconi but we still had to catch last year’s winner Montoya. At the base of the 8,000 ft? volcano he had a 2 minute lead, by the top it was 15 seconds and we saw him crest the top and drop into the fog starting the descent.
I lead the group onto the descent and was pushing hard in hopes of catching Montoya and getting the stage win and also putting some time into Marconi. Montoya, Alex and Marconi were all on HTs and I was hoping the Epic would help me gain time on the brain rattling descent. Not even 5 minutes into the descent I drifted off the trail and cut the front tire on a sharp volcanic stone. I quickly put a tube in only to realize I had not put a CO2 in the seat bag I put on the bike. I took the tube back out and started the 10KM walk down to the next tech zone. Luckily some spectators took pity on and helped me fix the flat a few Ks later. I managed to make it to the tech zone and swap wheels and get a fresh spare kit for the remainder of the stage.
When I finally hit the pavement 40 minutes later the Specialized team car was jacked up and had also gotten a flat. I thought that was pretty funny and just as I was starting to enjoy the fast, flowing road descent my other tire went flat. I think I had cut it earlier in the stage, it sealed and then the stickiness of the road had pulled the cut apart. Luckily I had another spare kit and no problems with the change but 5 KM from the finish I did not want to change another flat. I rolled in something like 30 minutes down and went from thinking about a stage win and gaining time to just being happy to finish. Day 2 had again proved to be my downfall but at least this time it was bad luck and not just sucking!
Day 3 I woke up knowing I was going to be able to finish. Day 3 might be the toughest mentally of all. There are 2 or 3 steep, hard climbs in the first third of the race. The lead group breaks apart some but usually comes back together for the remaining 80 something kilometers. So you are tried, the climbs are brutal and you have to suffer so bad going up them knowing that it is probably not going to effect the result of the race at all. I came over the top of the final climb in maybe 6th place with 4th and 5th maybe 10 seconds up. I caught them pretty quick on the descent and by the time we hit the first flat section only Montoya and Alex were still off the front.
We hit the first railroad section and Lico and I closed the gap with Marconi close behind. By the time we hit the last 10 Ks the group had swollen to maybe 10. I attacked a few times but never got the gap and with 1 K to go we all had a shot at the win. I sprinted for the corner that turns onto the beach and determines the winner but I couldn’t get around Lico and had to settle for another 2nd. Everyone got a pretty good reward though at the end of the race.
One of my favorite places to eat near Tamarindo is Lolas’. Lola is a 500 lb pig that lives at the restaurant. It reminds me a bit of La Playa beach bar in San Pancho, but the margaritas aren’t quite as good:)
This year I brought my bike with me to ride during my little vacation since I was heading to Iceman a few days later. We rode some of the only single track I have ever seen in the tropics. It is a 13Km loop cut into the jungle with some beautiful views. If you’re ever in Guanacaste check it out: http://www.lascatalinascr.com/las-catalinas-town-activities/mountain-biking/
One of our traditions is consuming lots of milkshakes on this particular trip. This is us loading up at Monte Verde on the way down. Well Carlos is focused for Breck Epic next year so he was good but Meg and I drank enough for everyone.
Here is a shot of the beach in Tamarindo. It has great surfing for beginners, I think. I didn’t have the chance to get out there but judging by all the long boards and sunburned tourists I assume it’s good.
As always the trip was too short and I was back in the US for the Iceman on Thursday after La Ruta. When I landed in northern MI, it was 40 degrees and pissing rain and I was wondering what I was thinking coming back early to do the Iceman. When my bike and luggage didn’t show up in the baggage area my hesitations were reinforced.
Luckily, Dave Masey(Specialized MI rep) and Matt(Specialized demo driver) got me setup with some shoes and a Stumpjumper so I could ride the course on Friday. I had shipped all my cold weather gear to the hotel so I wouldn’t have to carry it around Costa Rica for 2 weeks. I raced Iceman one time before and it snowed 8 inches the evening before the race so this year wasn’t bad with temps in the 40s and rain stopping by Friday evening. My bike finally arrived at the hotel 4 AM on Saturday morning, just in time to go to work. I think even the S-Works Stumpy wanted to stay in Costa Rica.
The race went exactly as I thought it would. The course was super fast since it is all sand and with a week of rain and 5,500 people riding it in the morning before us it was in perfect condition. We stayed a huge group until Finsty put in some efforts at the midway point. With 5 KM to go we were a group of 8 and I knew it would come down to final climb inside of 400 meters to go. I was sitting 2nd wheel and got around Kabush going into the final 100 meter section of single track before the climb. I hit the climb first and went flat out but died before the top and Kabush came over top of me to take the win. I just wasn’t strong enough to hold on but did everything I was hoping to.
I really wanted to win that race because you get this giant 60 lb ice trophy if you win. That trophy is then carried around all night to the all the parties like the Stanley Cup. It is a huge motivation for the race and a big honor to lug that trophy around for the night until it melts and is gone until the next year.
O well, maybe next year. Now I’m finally on a real break for a few weeks before I start gearing up for CX Nats. I’ll be spending some quality time with this guy.
I wonder if it’s going to snow tomorrow…….