This post is the one I put up on the IFracing.org website. I wanted to get more detailed on my personal blog, but doesn't seem like that is going to happen. So to get it out of the way...Here is the day by day of La Ruta racing.
Seems that the IF mountain bike team is not satisfied with one below the boarder stage race. The weekend after Wurster went to the Baja Epic I journeyed to Costa Rica for my second chance at the La Ruta stage race across the country from the Pacific to the Caribbean in four days, 300+km and over 30,000ft of climbing. I went in 2006 when it was only a 3 day race, got lost on day two and ended up 20th overall.
This year I was better prepared, less tired and rolling with bigger wheels, which I thought would be the secret weapon for the last day. I had the Ti Deluxe 29er with some out of production 700x44c Mutano Raptor tires from WTB to tackle the first two days, which promised lots of mud and relatively benign downhills. I was worried about their lack of air volume, but running the tubeless setup gave me some confidence. For the last two days I would switch to a 2.1 Nano up front and a 2.1 Vulpine in the rear.
Day 1 started at 5:30 in the morning from the beach town of Jaco. We had a chaotic and sketchy controlled start for the first 10k before the climb hit dirt and we started going straight up. Trying to ride towards the front with 400 people clawing at your back but 5 quads controlling the pace with blasts of 2 stroke exhaust was less than relaxing.
On the first climb, of a 4 day race you have no idea how you are going to compare to the people around you. I started at a decent pace, said good by to the Olympians and World cup racers, and settled in in the 15th place range. At the top of one of many false summits a Tico took a left and insisted it was the right direction, even though there were no tracks. So a group of us hesitantly followed through the thickest mud of the day. A short slick muddy hill greeted us. Some got off to push and others barely to ride it. At the top I asked again if they were sure it was the right way. Insisting it was they kept moving but I went with my gut and turned around, dropped down the hill and went back to the road where a quad came up and told me where I came from was the correct direction. So Back up the hill I went and when I got to the top of it a quad was coming from the other direction telling me to turn around, cause that was the wrong direction. At the corner there is an arrow pointing both directions. This time I was finally going in the right direction and wasn't sure what had happened to the people who insisted the other direction was correct.
So at that point I spent the rest of the day catching people I never should have been behind, which I find really frustrating. On the way down the hill I saw my soon to be North American Rival, but nice guy, Corey Wallace fixing a flat. For the next few km was the worst mud of the entire race. Steep sections where toe spikes were very helpful, and an ice axe would have been welcome. Fortunately the tires did their job of slicing and dicing the mud, and when I finally hit the 25k pavement climb they rolled faster than Rasta Rob. I rolled with Thomas Turner for awhile and this other Costa Rican who had a support Moto with wheels following us the whole time. Thomas and I didn't benefit from that moto, but the kid was definitely getting handups, which was totally cheating according to the rules.
On the next section I steadily caught people till I hit the last sections of climbing where I ran into Brian Cooke from Canada with about 6k to go. On the last hill I dropped him and spent an agonizing amount of time up the road thinking the finish would never come. When I crossed the line I had an 11th place which was better than I ever expected.
The food they had at the end was great, and as I was sitting in the grass to give myself a self massage to loosen up, the Massage guy for the biggest team in Costa told me to wait and he would take care of me for much better and for much less than the official race massage people. I hadn't bought the package cause the funds had been tight and I figured I'd have more money at the race and would pay for the package then, but then they said it's be $40 a day for what I knew would be a joke of a massage. Rafel was my savior and in the end I paid him for $60 for three days of some of the best post race massages I ever had. I think those were a big reason for my ability to feel fresh each day.
A 7:00am start was much easier to handle, and when we left the start gate for the controlled start I was feeling pretty good. The starts were the perfect warmup, but at the 5k mark the game was on. We pretty much started climbing some of the steepest gravel road pitches I'd ever seen. I had put a bit of pressure in my tires and was regretting that when the concrete climb got so steep I had no other gears and the avg speed was 5kmh. It was insane, but having spectators there yelling "Esso, Esso" was encouraging. Later on I heard some people from further back in the pack wondering if anyone climbed it and they were doing some serious speculating.
Fellow USA rider Thomas Turner and I were able to separate ourselves from most of the rest, and we cruised on the climbs with a kid named Milton from Honduras, but living in Spain. On the 1st downhill section Turner flatted and Milton and I cruised on. At one point on one of the rollers Milton came around a blind corner and ran into the back of a motorcycle. He got up and started rolling but had dropped his water bottle. I yelled to him and threw it to him. I thought I had done a good thing, but it didn't matter, cause his Motorcycle support wasn't too far away and got a fresh bottle anyways.
After a couple more climbs I managed to drop Milton and picked up a Super-PRo rider who was the Costa Rican U23 national Champ. Even though I had caught him, he managed to pick up the pace then drop me an hour later on the last big climb of the day. At that point we were in 9th and 10th place, and I could see Correy Wallace the Canadian at the top of the climb. Coming over the top I did some serious descending. Some of that included blowing by road crews and riding hot asphalt right behind the truck that was laying it down. Since I had been dropped, I was alone and at about the 70km mark I was on a flat road, putting in some TT efforts when I missed a left turn. Fortunately when I got to a couple of small towns down I ran into one of the support crews who told me I was going the wrong way. I turned around and about 5km later saw the turn and learned that there was a big Coke truck parked in front of the arrows. In the end I went about 11km out of the way, and I was pissed. The markings are so inconsistent.
Still I took off on the last 8km of rollers to the finish and tried to not give up any more spots. A group of three guys were behind me at the bottom of the climbs, as I crested each one I could see them. Eventually one kid charged and I spent the last 5km trying to stay in front. He eventually caught me after some loose down hilling, and as we passed another rider we began to attack each other. In the last 2km we each attack the other 3 times until I decided to save some for the next day. After getting lost for about 20min I ended up in 19th for the day and feeling a little robbed after the hard efforts of the day.
Unfortunately you just have to assume that being a non local you are going to give up some time to directional issues.
Thomas Turner's friends were driving around to help him and some friends, and I got to benefit from that help though their cheers and bottle hand offs on the next couple of days. We did everything by the books tho and all support was given within 500ms of the aid station.
At the end of the day I was 15th overall and 3rd North American behind Correy and Thomas.
My watch wore a hole in my wrist from this downhill.
Day Three is my overall favorite. It's a 70km day, with half up and half down, up and over the Volcano Irazu with the highest elevation being about 8,500ft. The initial climbs are steep on gravel roads and one section you have to get off and walk because it is so rutted out. After that section it turns to an endless pavement climb. All toll it take about 3hrs to get to the top before you drop off the other side and start descending some of the worst dirt roads you've ever seen. Usually the weather is Maine style socked in. Micro Climates of rain, and fog and cold make the climb and initial descent treacherous. But somehow I bring good weather to this race casue we had sun to the top. I never put my vest on, and only pulled my arm warmers up briefly.
On the pavement we had a good group of about 6, and according to position we were in the 12th to 18th positions going over the top. Fred Drier from Cycling news showed some excellent form on the day and pulled away from our group early in the climb, but as we got nearer to the top his altitude legs came back to the group. A nice kid from Mexico was mixing it up with us, riding real strong, as well as Turner and Cooke. About 700m from the top I attacked and pulled away from the group to have a clear line on the downhill.
Vladamir was at the top, passed me a quick bottle and off I went. At one point both feet came out of the pedals and I had to ride the bike bucking-bronco style straight at some bystanders at the apex of a corner. I pulled that out and went on my way looking out for the turn I had missed the previous race.
The road was much more washed out than last time, and it was hard to get a good flow, but the added difficulty was to my benefit as I cruised down the mountain I picked off four people. I saw Roberto Heras looking at his chain at one point, and when I came to the last couple of paved rises I saw Correy wallace, and surprised him. We rode together for a second, then he attacked right before the last downhill section through the coffee plantations. That gap stuck and I came in about 30 seconds behind him. And in 8th place!
I was pretty excited to break the top ten, and now going into the last day I was 13th overall, one spot ahead of Thomas and 12 minutes behind 10th overall.
It was going to take a miracle, but I felt I had a chance to squeeze into 10th.
This was the longest stage of the whole race in miles, but not time. We would be starting out immediately with a 4km climb up what we descended the day before, then hit a series of rollers till about the 40km mark where we would hit the last selective 5km climb of the day and the race before spending 80km on a false flat riding into the hottest part of the race towards the Caribbean. Also a big factor was going to be the Train tracks we had to ride down the middle of. That was where I planned to put my 29in wheels to use. My goal was to get over the top with a lead group and hopefully my close competitors wouldn't do the same.
As the gun went off we took off up some of the loosest gravel of the race. I was feeling really good, and when I got to the top I was with the group of Heras, Dietsch, Manny Prado, and Enrigue. All those guys were 3rd through 7th overall and my closest competitors were somewhere behind! Not long after Correy joined us, and my heart fell a little. He was the one I needed to beat by 12 minutes to take the 10th spot. As we got to the first rough downhill section Correy took off on his dual squish bike and I thought he was being a little to eager. Even if he got away by a minute, a group like this would catch him soon on the flats. Not surprisingly I saw him fixing a flat pretty soon, and tho I felt bad for him, I also thought he was taking unnecessary risks. I was surprised to see the Heras could actually ride his bike in the rough really well, then he to flatted with Stan's spewing everywhere. He had a moto with a wheel change right there tho and I knew we'd see him soon enough.
Not long after we hit the rolling sections at about 25km, Thomas Turner and Radoslav Sibl the Czech rider caught us with Heras and then soon after it was Correy back on the group. With three guys off the front, I figured a group this size would be able to catch them, but no one seemed willing to work. We kept a steady tempo, but I was actually surprised when those other riders caught us. So rolling 9 deep we pushed on. Just before the big climb I crashed in a corner taking a stupid local line and banged my knee pretty good, but was able to get back on and forget about it. 6 days later now and I can't forget it because it's swollen and I think I chipped a bone. When we hit the last big climb, everyone managed to come back together after the top.
The next battle would be for position on the train tracks. In the heat and endless flats it was becoming more difficult to follow the direction arrows, but the locals in the group kept things straight. Correy flatted again after going to the front and running into a section of tracks that were deep. I threw him my extra tube but only had one CO2, so he was going to have to fend for himself. I felt bad, but also knew my overall finish was depending on how fast he got that fixed. If I had an extra air cartridge I would have thrown that down to.
On an early train track section and over the biggest bridge I got a taste for what my bigger tires were going to be able to do. Without much effort I rolled away from the entire group and put about a minute on them. When we came to the next section of road, I kept a good pace up but didn't try to stay away from them since we still had about 50km to go. The heat was getting oppressive, like living in an all glass home in Chicago with no AC in the summer.
As the group meandered it's way through one small village to the next, constantly crossing the tracks I tried to stay as aware of where the next and final train track sections were going to be. I wanted to be first on them. That meant not sitting in a whole lot and staying towards the front. When I finally saw the tracks in a distance I made a couple quick moves, got to the front then pulled some (in my mind) super smooth cyclo-cross dismounting and remounting moves to be first. On my wheel was the Czech Radoslav and I found a pace that was just above comfortable and set the cruise control. I knew we had about 20 minutes of the tracks then we would get off of them and ride a beach road for the last 10 km. Some how Radoslav stuck to my wheel despite having a 26in wheeled hardtail.
I give him credit for being able to suffer, because when we got off the tracks we had such a gap on the rest of the pack I could barely see them through the heat waves. The last 10km was pretty agonizing. We worked together really well, but I could tell I was the weaker rider. Every time I came to the front we dropped about 3kmh, but I was able to hang on his wheel to the end. Where he got 4th and I was 5th. That was sort of beyond my expectations.
I could barely walk to sit down and start counting down the time to Correy. Apparently our attack had brought back the lead group to under 5 minutes, and put 5 minutes on the group of Heras and Dietchs. By the time Correy came in I knew I was almost guaranteed a top 10 spot.
It was sort of stunning to me. I thought top 15 was realistic, but really wasn't sure if top 10 was. To top it off, being the first North American across the line was definitely the coconut on the flan!
My friend and understudy Janel had herself an incredible race. It was her longest days on a bike and first stage race ever. She consistently was battling for the 6th and 7th places. Inthe end she ended up 7th, which was a great result given her newness and the competition.
Tim on the other hand was back for his 3rd attempt but was thwarted when he had to pull out at the 1st aid station of the 1st day with hip problems. Theory is the horseback ride the day before threw him out of whack.
Thanks to the IF crew, Carl, my Family and the friends.