Posted by Editoress on 11/11/05
As predicted, Thomas Frischknecht (Swisspower) won the first stage of La Ruta de los Conquistadores. Frischknecht crushed the competition by nearly 7 minutes, finishing ahead local challengers Deiber Esquivel and Marvin Campos, with Jeremiah Bishop coming in fifth after over extending himself on the longest climb of the day and dropping from second place. Roddi Lega was the top Canadian finisher in 11th place.
The first stage of La Ruta is the longest and, arguably, the most difficult, with 4526 metres (15,000 feet) of climbing in 110.1 kilometres (70 miles). The field of nearly 400 started at Punta Leona on the Pacific Ocean, and hit the first climb 10 kilometres into the race.
The extended hurricane season in the Caribbean has spilled over the Costa Rica, so the mud through checkpoints one (27.3 kilometres) and two (40.7 kilometres) forced long sections of hiking.
"We must hiked for 40 minutes" commented Bishop.
Bishop went out hard with the early leaders, while Frischknecht started more slowly. "At the beginning I found it a little hard to get going, after the first climb I was back in 20th. I think they went too hard at the start."
"Then I started to pick up guys, I was able to ride some sections that others couldn't. I think I made a good tire choice today (Ritchey C-Max). I caught the front guys (Bishop and Campos) between the first and second checkpoints."
Esquivel wasn't there, so Campos wasn't doing any work, leaving it to the gringos.
"Marvin didn't do any work" stated Frischknecht "in fact, he was trying to slow us down, slowing in the corners."
Frischknecht responded by taking the pace up a notch when the race hit the pavement at checkpoint three, as the riders were starting the major climb of the day - a 20 kilometre effort that maxed out at 1,158 metres. Neither Campos nor Bishop could respond initially, but Bishop managed to find the reserves to drop Campos further up the climb.
This backfired when, "the atomic bonk took everything out of me. I think I must of died out there twice today" said a shaky Bishop afterwards. I went out way too hard at the start, and I was in the lead for the toughest section. After Thomas caught us we rode together until he dropped us on the climb. I got a gap on Campos and Thomas waited, but he could see I was falling off the pace.
"I kept going, but the Ticos (Esquivel and Campos) caught me about a kilometre from the top of the climb. I took a drink and an energy bar over the top, and then caught them, got dropped, caught, got dropped . . . It must of happened about four times. I guess I'm in worse shape than I thought."
Maybe not - Frischknecht, the Marathon world champion and winner of multiple Marathon World Cups, said "this is the toughest marathon I ever did. The distance, the amount of climbing, with the muddy conditions . . . it was hard."
Lega is racing with only two weeks of training in his legs since July. "I started to use an altitude tent over the winter, but it didn't work for me. I didn't cut back on training (while using it), so I kept getting slower and slower all spring, and finally my coach (Houshang Amiri) told me to stop in July. So I came into this race completely out of shape. I am in such a world of hurt right now."
Ex-racer Andreas Brenes, a former team mate of Frischknecht's from the Ritchey days negated the Costa Rican advantage in feeding through the race by riding "shotgun" for Frischknecht on a motorbike. He was able to keep Frischknecht fed at each checkpoint. Some Costa Ricans protested, but it was pointed out that a following moto is legal (but not a four-wheeled vehicle, which is what many locals have used in the past).
One complaint was that riders received contradictory information on distances remaining in the race. Frischknecht pointed out "The last 20 K were especially hard when there are no signs, and you are being told it's 5 K but it's really 10, and that there are no more climbs, but there is one big one remaining..."
The mud was causing lots of gear problems for riders, with most stopping at every stream crossing to wash their bikes. "Everyone kept getting chainsuck." commented Roddi Lega (Norco). "I used an entire bottle of lube out there."
Frischknecht has become the second non-Costa Rican to don the leader's jersey in the 13 year history of the race. American Tinker Juarez took the lead after the second stage of the 2002 edition, but lost the jersey on the final day.
Day two covers 77.9 kilometres through the middle of Costa Rica, and takes the riders to the highest point of the race - 3010 metres. The riders "only" climb 2729 metres. The race bible advises: "Cloud forest and rain forest. Expect wind and rain. Be prepared for drastic climate changes."
Day 1 - Punta Leona to Santa Ana, 110.1 kilometres
1. Thomas Frischknecht (Sui) Swisspower, 5:53:20
2. Deiber Esquivel (CRC) IBP, at 6:25
3. Marvin Campos (CRC) IBP, 6:26
4. Jonathan Carballo (CRC) IBP, 8:29
5. Jeremiah Bishop (USA) Trek-VW, 13:17
6. Paolo Montoya (CRC) Santa Ana, 29:45
7. Gonzalo Bonilla (CRC) IBP, 37:20
8. Allan Cordero (CRC) IBP, 42:47
9. Jorge Coto (CRC) Santa Ana, 52:26
10. Ron Akerson Hendricks (CRC) Red Bull, 52:48
11. Roddi Lega (Can) Norco, 53:28
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