Ben Sonntag marked his closest rival across the finish line on the final stage of La Ruta de los Conquistadores on Saturday, making him only the third non-Costa Rican to win the grueling trek from the Pacific to the Caribbean in 18 years.
With the help of his Cannondale Factory Racing teammate Alex Grant, who finished second overall, Germany’s Sonntag completed the four-stage, 250-mile race in 18hrs 17mins 27secs. Sonntag’s biggest threat, Costa Rican Fredrico “Lico” Ramirez, finished third 3mins 49secs behind the winner in 18hrs 21mins 16secs. The USA’s Grant finished 2mins 30secs behind Sonntag.
Luis Leao Pinto of Portugal won the final stage in 4hrs 27mins 11secs, placing him fifth overall.
The story at the beginning of the day, however, was whether Sonntag could hold off Ramirez. Going into the eighteenth year of La Ruta only two outsiders had won the event — Thomas Frischknecht of Switzerland and Colombian Leonardo Páez. Ramirez is not only a local favorite, but a five-time La Ruta champ.
To win with Ramirez in the field was “amazing,” Sonntag said after the race as he stood next to the Caribbean Sea at Playa Bonita.
“For foreigners it was always so hard to win here,” Sonntag said, noting Frischknecht’s victory in 2005 and Páez in 2006. “Just to be part of that club is really incredible.”
Stage 4 Fight
Sonntag won the first stage of the race and held the leader’s jersey every day despite Ramirez winning stage 2. At the start of the final stage on Saturday Ramirez was in third place a mere four minutes behind Sonntag.
With approximately 25km of punishing racing for rider and rig over abandoned railroad tracks near the end of the day, Ramirez launched a final flyer. But Sonntag said he was feeling strong and able to mark attacks throughout the day.
“To win such a race you need good legs but also luck. I had no mechanicals or any problems this week. That’s a huge part in being successful,” he said, adding that last year he finished eighth largely because of breakdowns. “It was meant to be this year.”
The women contending for the La Ruta crown came across the line in the same order Saturday as they did in stages 1, 2 and 3 — Colombia’s Angela Parra, defending champ Louise Kobin and endurance racing’s “Queen of Pain” Rebecca Rusch.
Parra crossed the line on the final day at 5hrs 30mins 58secs. Her total time was 23hrs 01mins 40secs. Kobin was second at 28mins 33secs back. Rusch finished third overall 59mins 38 seconds off the lead.