October 31/06 6:29 am - La Ruta Preview
Posted by Editor on 10/31/06
La Ruta Preview
It is less than three days until the 14th edition of the La Ruta de los Conquistadores begins on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Today, the organizers held a press conference in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, with some of the top contenders - Jeremiah Bishop (Trek-VW), Adam Craig (Giant) and Hector Paez (Full Dynamix). Defending champion Thomas Frischknecht (Swisspower) had travel troubles, and could not be at the press conference.
This year, the race is expected to be much tougher - despite last year being the wettest on record for the race. The reason? According to Bishop, who finished fifth last year, "The level of competition is increasing every year - that's the biggest challenge. Plus, the first stage sounds harder, and there is more stuff on foot as well it sounds like."
The race begins at sunrise (5:15 am local) on Friday - November 3rd - with a stage that is expected to thrash the field. The stats caught the attention of every rider present at the press conference:
Length - 97. km
Total Climbing - 4420m / 14,501 feet
Paved - 8.3 km (8.5%)
Mud - 47.3 km (48.5%)
Gravel - 41.9 km (43%)
Last year, Frischknecht won the stage in just under six hours (5:53:20), but local riders who have ridden the revised course say that it is much harder - "the final climb is very steep and gravel, not like last year when it was paved. Also there are two long walking sections (through the Carrara Preserve) .... I think even the best riders will be one hour, or one hour and 30 minutes longer." said Paolo Montoya.
Day two offers some respite at 66.7 kilometres (shorter than last year, with the first paved section through San Jose city traffic moved out of town). the riders climb a 'mere' 2654m (8787 feet), with 30% paved, 11% mud and 59% gravel roads. The stage ends with a long, gnarly descent into a coffee plantation - Frischknecht lost his lead on day two when he suffered multiple punctures on this section.
The third stage, at 120 kilometres, is the longest, but in some ways the easiest, since it generally slopes downhill to the finish at the Caribbean beach town of Limon. However, the riders still climb 1720 m (5650 feet), with 17% pavement, 12% mud and 51% gravel. The kicker is the 25 kilometres of train track - with the railbed still in place. This is 21% of the total distance. Last year, riders caught a break, when one of the trestle bridges over a river was out of service and the race had to detour around on a long section of road. That bridge is now fixed... By the way, these bridges are high, over rivers containing Caiman alligators (!) and have big gaps of 30-45 cm between each trestle as you walk across with your bike over your shoulder.
Bishop is the only rider of the three at the press conference who has done the race before, and he had to say "this race is one of the biggest adventures of my season, and I'm glad to be back. I'm looking forward to improving from last year, and having some fun. This year I brought a hardtail - a Trek 9.9 - because there is such a tremendous amount of climbing. Of course, this year I brought mud tires!"
Adam Craig says he is riding "to finally check out the legend that is La Ruta. I'm looking forward to some good racing, and having the chance to ride coast to coast, but it should be interesting starting at 5 o'clock in the morning ... The X factor will be the weather; we will have to see who's best equipped to handle what nature brings."
The most interesting newcomer to the race is Hector Leonardo Paez Leon. This 24 year old Colombian has taken the mountain biking world by storm this season. He won the overall Marathon World Cup title, finished second at the Marathon Worlds, fifth at the Cross-country Worlds and won the Pan Am Championships title two weeks ago, riding away from a field containing both Bishop and Craig.
Paez has a fairytale story - He lives at 2600m in the mountains 150 kilometres outside of Bogata. In the morning he studied at school, and in the afternoon helped his father in the fields, farming. At the age of 18 he saved up enough money to buy his first bike and began racing. He finished fourth in his first race - a stage race for Juniors, and won his second race - a mountain bike race, a local race that he has now won five times in a row.
According to his coach, he has never raced an offroad stage race before, so he will spend the first part of the first stage staying with the leaders if possible, and then attack on the climb. Also according to his coach "he trains at between 2600m and 3500m, and "does his recovery rides on the hills, he says it feels easier to him. I first saw him in a local race, and the engine was there to climb so easy, but his descending was very bad. I saw a big margin to improve."
We spoke to Paez for a few minutes (with his coach interpreting):
CC - Which do you prefer - road or mountain bike?
Paez - I like both right now, but in the future I would like to go to the road, maybe to race in Europe.
CC - While you had some good results last year, this year was a big improvement.
Paez - Yes, I was not really expecting to do so well yet, but I saw last year that I was getting closer to the top riders, which gave me much more confidence.
CC - Why did you choose bike racing?
Paez - I have always liked the bike, I liked to watch the racers, but couldn't afford a bike at first.
CC - What do you see as your strengths and weaknesses?
Paez - My weakest part is still the technical riding, but I am getting better now. My strength is climbing, the tougher the better.
CC - Who do you see as the toughest competition?
Paez - Frischknecht, and the Italian rider Marizo Deho (Olimpia) are the biggest ones, I think. But I have raced against them and I have prepared well - I come here to win.