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La Ruta begins

Costa Rica’s La Ruta de los Conquistadores claims to be the toughest mountain bike race in the world and with 300 miles and 30,000ft of climbing through jungles and up volcanoes over three days, the organisers may have a point. BMer Matthew Barton is riding and has sent us this report:

They bill it as the world’s toughest mountain bike race, and based on my experiences of today I would have to say it has all the potential to live up to its reputation.

Around 400 or so keen souls were lined up on the line at Jaco beach on the pacific coast with false bravado aplenty at 5am this morning, some of us (in fact probably most of us) had been up since 2:30am to get the necessary pre-race fodder (cold pizza from last night topped off with a spot of malt loaf for me) down and digested.

Amazingly when the clock struck 5am we were launched into the darkness with a police escort to get us out of town and on our way. The first 10k or so were on tarmac, an obligatory pile up at the first proper corner then it was normal service with everyone haring way too fast into the rising sun, and ominously the rising temperature.

Once we were off road things seemed to settle down with riders falling into their rhythm and everyone waiting for the fabled mud to arrive – this seemed to take forever and concerns were raised to the effect that maybe it wasn’t going to happen.

My personal nadir was reached at 9:10am, scrambling up a glassy slope with 28lbs of useless metal balanced on my shoulder. Eventually all things pass and after many river crossings (chance to try and cure the rather severe chain suck I was experiencing) the route became rideable. 35km of mud had been advertised and pretty much delivered upon, I’m not sure how much I walked but it was a lot (the heels of both my socks were missing by the finish).

Following our muddy morning we climbed through beautiful if sweltering rainforest before arriving at the days other ‘highlight’ – about 1000m of vertical tarmac climbing with no real let up – better than a couple of years ago though when it was off road and half the field missed the time cut. I was feeling keen here and middle ringed most of it, catching a few ticco’s who all seemed to be supported by land cruisers dangling bottles out the wind.

Buoyed by a couple of caffeine gels and the question ‘what would Jens (Voight) do,’ taped onto my bars I indulged in a game of rip-each-others-legs-off with a local, probably to be regretted tomorrow but I did nail him on a flat bit so UK 1 – South America 0.

Finally we top out and for the first time in my life I get a police escort through the main street of the last town, I’m basically motor pacing flat out behind a motor bike with flashing blue lights and sirens blaring to clear the traffic. Then its over, the line is crossed and I’m not dead. I finish in 9hrs 46mins for the advertised 110km with 5500m of climbing. Checking the times I discover one of the locals had come in first in 5hrs. I’m still struggling to come to terms with this. How do people ride that fast!

Time for my second dinner, I’ve got 6000 calories to replace and it’s another early start tomorrow. Thursday’s profile seems to resemble the teeth of a saw propped up-wards – should be character forming…

And some news from the front of the pack

Costa Rican Federico Ramírez won the first stage with a time of 5hrs 54mins 40secs, a clear 10mins ahead of second placed Paolo Montoya, setting the local rider on target for achieving a sixth win of La Ruta.

A group composed of six racers; Ramírez, Montoya, Artavia, Prado, Heras and Dietsch managed to stay together after the Carara traverse. However, Federico attacked just after passing checkpoint three leaving the rest of the bunch behind, and unable to respond.

“I felt strong so I decided to attack at the beginning of the big paved climb,” says Federico Ramírez. “Carara was really hard this year and we had to hike a lot with the bike over our shoulders. Thank god I managed to keep the advantage I got over Paolo. I think this gap will allow us to control tomorrow’s stage.”

Three-time winner of La Vuelta a España, Roberto Heras, is taking part and finished the first stage in a strong fifth place.

Day 1 Results

Open Men

1. Corea Gutierrez Santos 6:55:24

2. Sanchez Mula Pere – 7:11:55 (16:32)
3. Beltran Bernal Jose Angel – 7:14:18 (18:55)

40. Matthew Barton – 9:47:43 (2:52:20)

Open Women

1. Adriana Rojas 8:13:28

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