Posted by Editor on 11/10/07
La Ruta Goes Bigger for 15th Anniversary
Yesterday afternoon, the organizers of Costa Rica's most famous bike race, La Ruta de los Conquistadores, held a press conference in San Jose to introduce the 2007 edition. This year is the 15th anniversary of La Ruta, and the organizers have added an extra day (up to four from three), and extra distance and climbing.
For 2007 La Ruta has increased by 72 kilometres, to 360 kilometres, with the vertical gain now up to a staggering 12,000 metres (39,000 feet). The reasons for the additional day are twofold:
1. Last year a significant proportion of participants could not complete the first day (which contained approximately half of the total climbing for the event). The final climb was a brutally steep and long off-road muddy slog, which did people in (earlier years had used a paved climb). Thomas Frischknecht called it "the hardest day of racing I have ever done".
2. The organizers wanted to truly make this a 'coast to coast' event. Previous years had a gap around San Jose.
The first stage, from Jaco Beach on the Pacific Coast to El Rodeo (west of San Jose), has gone back to the previous course, with the final climb paved. The course is by no means easy, with 4420 metres of vertical gain over 95 kilometres. The first portion of the course contains the most technical trails of the entire race, with riders slogging through tropical rain forest, mud bogs and river crossings. They also pass through the beautiful Carara National Park - Carara is a local native word for crocodile...
The new second stage takes the riders in a long loop south around San Jose. This stage has the most pavement (50%), but also 3624 metres of vertical gain, with steep climbs and descents - this may be the crucial stage of the race for the top competitors.
Day three is unchanged from last year, at 66.7 kilometres. It is nearly 60% on gravel roads and takes the riders to the highest point of the race at 3010 metres, on the slopes of the Irazu volcano. Immediately after cresting the summit, riders plunge 10 kilometres downhill to the stage finish. The first portion of the descent is fairly treacherous, with large, loose 'baby skull' rocks littering the route. Last year, Jeremiah Bishop attacked race leader Leonardo Paez on this section and crashed heavily in a corner, breaking his cheekbone. Thomas Frischknecht also lost the lead (which he regained on the following day) on this descent in 2005 when he suffered multiple flats.
The final day, at 120 kilometres, is the longest, but also trends mostly downhill to the finish on a Caribbean beach in Limon. The first half of the stage is mostly gravel roads, interspersed with short sections of pavement, but the second half features long stretches of muscle jarring railway track and trestle bridges, with a final swampy, muddy run into the beach.
Neither of last year's winners - Colombian Paez or Canada's Marg Fedyna - are returning, so the race is open to crown a new winner. One of the favourites for the women's crown, Canadian Melanie McQuaid - a former Xterra champion - pulled out a couple of days ago, so it looks to be a race between cross-country pro Sue Haywood in her first La Ruta, against two former winners - Louise Kobin and Hillary Harrison. On the men's side, there are a number of Costa Ricans who would like to take the title back after two years of foreign wins - Deiber Esquivel, Manuel Prado, Federico Ramirez (the only 3-time winner of La Ruta) and Paolo Montoya. The foreign challengers will be Canada's Max Plaxton, Tinker Juarez (USA), Sandro Spaeth (Switzerland - 2nd in Trans Alp) and Thomas Dietsch (France, World #1 ranked in Marathon).
La Ruta takes place November 14-17.
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