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By Fred Dreier
The most dominant feature on Stage 2 of La Ruta de los Conquistadores is the 25km paved climb from San Ignacio Acosta to Copalchi, which accounts for roughly one-third of the 76km trip from west to east San Jose. In La Ruta’s trusty race guide, the climb’s profile appears a gradual three-peaked slog up 3000 vertical feet.
In reality, the climb’s profile is more like a side-view of a great white shark’s tooth — it’s a serrated slope of countless miniature peaks and valleys. The road juts abruptly upward in wall-like sections as it snakes its way up the ridgeline of a massive 6000-foot volcanic ridge. It is a mountain made up of mini mountains.
Riding the climb means facing a maddening barrage of leg cracking walls. It is steep, exposed to the sunshine and demoralizing as all hell, because just when you think you’ve reached the final summit, another steep section pokes from around the corner. Last year the climb left me crushed and cracked. I had to sit down and rest midway up.
In its second year — organizers debuted Stage 2 last year to completed the Pacific to Caribbean trek — La Ruta’s second stage served up another day of pain. We took the line promptly at 7 a.m. at the Quinta del Sol resort on the western edge of San Jose, then spun past cars, trucks and busses on open roads to the base of the day’s first ascent. It was a steep doosey, rising 1500 vertical feet on loose gravel. Eventual stage winner Paolo Montoya, the 2004 La Ruta champ, used the early ups to open the day’s first gap.
The hour of granny gear climbing was followed by a series of equally steep, sketchy descents on loose dirt and mud. After the race I heard a series of war stories about the downhill: riders melting their brake pads, skidding off cliffs into trees. Even La Ruta’s media chief Luis Rueda bit it coming down the descent on his ATV and ended up headfirst in a coffee plant. His pride suffered the hardest blow.
After 10 kilometers of steep gravel climbs and two river crossings, we were on the long ascent to Copalchi. The road climbed steadily through dense jungle foliage and past coffee farms, with small towns peeking out every few miles. Yelling schoolchildren lined the towns with their hands out hoping for high-fives. Large busses chugged by billowing diesel fumes in our faces. We rode past mangy stray dogs, grazing horses and lots of cows.
The long ascent was pivotal at the front of the race. Montoya, who lives in the area and trains on the roads, rode alongside race leader Federico Ramirez. Behind the duo, Roberto Heras attempted to bridge from a group containing Ticos Enrique Artavia, Marvin Campos and Frenchman Thomas Dietsch. The Spaniard Heras, who was dropped on the opening ascent, couldn’t close the gap on the road.
Montoya eventually ditched Ramirez on a muddy descent a few kilometers from the finish line to cut two minutes out of the race leader’s six-minute lead. For the second day in a row, Heras was out sprinted at the line, this time by the towering Dietsch, and had to settle for fifth.
My dreadful experience last year on the mountain of many mini mountains left a sore spot in my legs and mind. So in the lead up to year’s La Ruta, I simply aimed my mountain bike at the steepest roads in Boulder County and pedaled away. Yes, I realize the faux pax I committed by trading my usual fun trails for boring asphalt and gravel. My inner fat-tire ached to go shred single-track, but I stayed committed to the mind-numbing assaults on the steep roads.
The decision paid off. Two months on Magnolia, Sugarloaf and Lick Skillet roads led to a banner day for yours truly in Costa Rica. While I may have lacked the pop to stay with Paolo Montoya, Federico Ramirez and Roberto Heras, my legs chugged up all of those steeps without stopping. I even put the hurt on a handful of teenie, 110-pound Costa Ricans, who no doubt had to pinch themselves when a well-fed, six-foot-three American came rolling past on an uphill.
1.Paolo Montoya (CRC) Economy Rent at Car-Seven Capital 3:52:02
2.Federico Ramírez (CRC) BCR-Pizza Hut at 2:49
3.Enrique Artavia (CRC) Súper Pro-Economy Rent at Car at 5:45
4.Thomas Dietsch (FRA) Gewiss-Bianchi at 7:42
5.Marvin Campos (CRC) Súper Pro-Economy Rent at Car at 7:45
6.Roberto Heras (ESP) Giant España at 7:50
7.Manuel Prado (CRC) Sho Air-Rock and Road Cyclery at 13:50
1.Federico Ramírez (CRC) BCR-Pizza Hut 9:48:28
2.Paolo Montoya (CRC) Economy Rent at Car-Seven Capital at 7:28
3.Enrique Artavia (CRC) Súper Pro-Economy Rent at Car at 26:36
4.Roberto Heras (ESP) Giant España at 30:25
5.Thomas Dietsch (FRA) Gewiss-Bianchi at 33:15
6.Manuel Prado (CRC) Sho Air-Rock and Road Cyclery at 36:22