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Luis Leao Pinto (Scotiabank) was crowned the winner of La Ruta de los Conquistadores Saturday after crossing the finish line in sixth place in Playa Bonita, Limón. Thanks to a strong first-day performance, he won by more than six minutes over second place Luis Mejía (Coopenae Movistar Economy).
After a dismal first day, Todd Wells (Specialized), the race’s 2011 winner, got a bit of redemption, winning the final stage.
“Every time I come to La Ruta, I come to win. I couldn’t do it this time, but I’m really glad I got this stage,” said Wells. “It’s the first time that I won it, and every time I do it better. Every time I lose a little more fear for the bridge and train track crossing. Leao was very strong, especially climbing, I tried to keep up with him throughout the race. In La Ruta there’s always cyclists of very high quality, even though some of them aren’t so well known.”
Leao kept up the pace in the main pack. Throughout the the 120-kilometer stage, he fought strongly against Josep Betalú, Luis Mejía, Héctor Riveros, and Paolo Montoya. Wells made his winning move at the first checkpoint in La Alegría.
“This race can’t be done on your own, and the truth is that I didn’t know my teammates so well, but they have been amazing today and have fought for me,” said Leao. “We rode together since the attacks began. We had it all under control until they couldn’t handle it anymore.
“Like I said yesterday [Friday], today I was going to give the best version of myself that I could, and you could count on me to give my all until the end, and it has been this way. I kept my pace in the climbs, and just at the beginning I noticed that I was stronger than my rivals. They got it and at the end, well, I’m really happy. I didn’t have this race set up in my calendar. This has been one of the worst years of my life, I lost my mom less than two months ago … and it has been very complicated, a hard time, I was about to quit competing completely, so this victory is for her.
“I love being here, the fans the sport has in this country give me chills. They make me want to suffer a little more just for them. In 2010, I didn’t come hoping to win or lead, I wanted to be in the top 10, and I won the last stage, so now I’m really happy with the title. I have never suffered so much in my life like Friday in Ochomogo, to suffer from dehydration due to how worn out I was from the day before was the worst. The altitude got the best of me.”
“It was a very demanding stage, just like every year, it was very tough and demanding,” said Mejía. “We all had pain in our legs and were very tired, and today Leao proved his strength in the climbs when we tried to keep up and attack we realized this was his strong point, and we could not do it. In the climb of La Alegría I already knew I couldn’t risk it, crossing the train track bridges fast wasn’t worth risking my life. We tried to lock our position. We came here to win, but this year the bar has been very high, and so now I want to come back and win this.”
Colombian Ánngela Parra (Coopenae Movistar) won the women’s category handily, taking the three stages by storm. On Saturday, she crossed the finish line in Playa Bonita nearly 20 minutes ahead of second place, Xiomara Guerrero (Specialized).
In the final overall standings, Parra beat Guerrero by 52:41. Parra said, “I had memories of this stage being very tough with the bridge situation, and I really wanted to finish it quickly, so I sped up my pace in the flat parts, and I didn’t suffer as much as I did last time. La Ruta is one of the toughest mountain bike races, if not the most, on the planet, but it’s a stage race, and one has to be smart about it.”