Serving up almost 40,000 feet of climbing in 250 miles and four days of racing, the La Ruta de Los Conquistadores 2010 course more than lives up to the event’s reputation for delivering a huge challenge to competitors.
The annual classic will feature known challenges like the Irazu volcano, train trestles and the sticky mud of the Carrara National Park. In 2010 a completely new stage is set for day two, and will showcase the abilities of Alex Grant, Sam Schultz, Rebecca Rusch and other hopefuls as they take up the challenge offered by top local pros, including last year’s winner, Sho-Air team endurance standout, Manuel Prado.
Stage One: Nov 17. Jaco to Santana. 106km (65mi), 4,500m (14,760ft) climbing.
In a four-day stage race with as much dirt, distance and elevation gain as La Ruta offers, no stages count as easy days. However, despite the early wake up call on day one, the first stage of the 2010 La Ruta de los Conquistadores begins in a relatively civilized manner.
Racers roll out with a short neutral start from the resort town of Jaco, a favorite of surfers for its waves and culture. The course, through the first checkpoint, will quickly build the confidence of la Ruta rookies, with its gradual climbs, wider trails and good road conditions. But la Ruta throws its first punch right after that, guiding racers into Carrara national park and its seemingly countless steep, slippery climbs and descents. The 13km between checkpoints two and three will take racers almost twice as long to cover as the first 25km of the stage. After check-point three, with the most difficult sections of the day in the rearview mirror, it becomes a race of attrition – 54k and a significant amount of climbing remain to the finish. Expect a group of the race’s elite 8-10 riders to emerge from Carrara together. But expect no more than three to make the final selection on the day and separate themselves from the rest by the finish. It may not be possible to win the race on the first day, but it can definitely be lost on day one. Anticipate winning times in the six hour range.
Stage Two: Nov 18. Santana to Tres Rios. 77km (48mi), 3000m (9,800ft) climbing.
Day one will have already shaped the field and delivered fatal blows to the aspirations of several pre-race contenders. Expect that experienced hard men like Manuel Prado and Alex Grant will have made the selection. If newcomer Sam Schultz plays his cards right, he could well be in the mix at this point, too, along with a host of Costa Rican pros that always keep the top international racers honest. With three tough days left to go, it’s also likely that we will see a few surprises in the top ten on GC at this point.
And stage two — a completely new addition to la Ruta — looks to help sort that out almost immediately. After a couple kilometers to warm up, the trail points up, gaining 1000meters in the next 8km – elevation that is almost entirely given back on the following descent, which is significantly steeper than the climb. The payoff is a long section characterized by more gradual climbing through a protected forest of pine trees in an area well known for its coffee production. The climate will be much cooler than on day one, and likely windy, setting the stage for riders to play a tactical battle between climbs. Projected winning time is 4.5 hours.
Stage Three: Nov 19. Tres Rios to Turrialba. 85km (53mi), 2654m (8,700ft) climbing.
Of all la Ruta stages, perhaps none captures the imagination of the racers as much as stage three. The race is half over or more in terms of stages, climbing and time. So there is some sense of relief on the day. But significant challenges remain. Climbing from the gun, racers will ride up to the volcano Irazu, and past the volcano Turrialba, with the course topping out at over 3300m after starting at 1250m. Perhaps as much as the climb itself, this means that weather will be a factor on the day. It is not uncommon for racers to be faced with rain, wind and temperatures not far above freezing as they crest the top of the climb and find themselves almost immediately on a rapid, rock-strewn descent to the finish line in Turrialba. For some each year, a day that starts early with perhaps arm and knee warmers, ends with hypothermia. The day offers the most for the pure climbers. Even riders with exceptional handling ability can find surprises on the descent, as Jeremiah Bishop, an excellent bike handler, learned last year, landing himself in the hospital after first landing himself on the dirt in an ill-timed mishap. Expect winning times of approximately 4 hours.
Stage 4: Nov 20. Turrialba to Playa Bonita 121k (75mi), 1760m (5,775ft) climbing.
The spirits of the field will be noticeably lifted on the final day, much like the last day of any stage race. And while on paper, the dash to Playa Bonita appears the easiest of any la Ruta stage, it is far from a walk in the park. Many of la Ruta’s most fabled features are concentrated on the last day — the slippery train trestles, sometimes deep river crossings, and seemingly endless kilometers riding on or alongside railroad ties all will test riders’ skill and resolve. Despite a couple solid climbs early on the stage, most of this day favors powerful riders. The finish on the black sand beaches of Playa Bonita serves up a stunning reward for race finishers. Winning times are projected at just under 4.5 hours.