Tuesday, November 27, 2007

La Ruta Story

I sat on the starting line on stage one of the La Ruta de los Conquistadors mountainbike stage race. I was nervous as hell. It was dark, about 5:30 in the morning. The fireworks celebrating the 15th year of the race were really spectacular, but they hardly put me at ease. They were loud and they were only ten feet away from all of us. I worried about my fitness, did I train enough? I was worried about the chaotic nature of racing south of the border. Would I collide with a moto or get bit by a dog? I was nervous about hurting myself.Would I break my upper mandible like Jeremiah did here last year?

But one of the biggest worries of the morning was the bike. My sweet carbon 9.9 was MIA. My suitcase showed up at the San Jose Airport, but the bike never made it. The TACA airlines clerk said don't worry...think positive! That actually made me feel better and I was sure it would show up later that night or the next day or at least before the racce.

I called Luis Fonseca, the marketing director, who invited me down to La Ruta after we met at Trans Rockies. The tone of his voice said it all, "oh know, that's not good" He wasn't saying no problem like the clerk. He mobilized and said I'll call the local Trek dealer and get you a bike for the race.

Its good to have a Trek family all over the world! In the morning I was taken over to Pazos bike shop owned by Claudio Brenes. I guess they helped Jeremiah last year when he was hurt. They didn't have a bike right there for me, but they would bring it to Jaco Beach that night. They got my info like size, stem size, tires and pedals. Super, I was set.

So, at least I was going to be able to race. The guys from the bike shop drove all the way to Jaco Beach to deliver me a bike. They arrived at 11. The race started in six hours. The bike was a beauty, but lost in translation was my size. It was a small 9.9. It seemed like a toy bike as I pedaled it around in the hotel lobby. We were both a little disappointed. I said to myself you have to learn spanish so these awkward moments don't happen so often.

So as I sat on the start line with 550 other racers, I felt the nerves of the unknown. What will this day bring? Will my back seize up? Will the front wheel come flying out? Are all the bolts tight? What does 15,000ft of climbing feel like?

The day was amazing and difficult. The bike was great. It was a little small, mostly because of the short stem. It was quite good on the climbs, but on the downhills I was wanting my bike for sure. I stopped once to raise the saddle, but thats it. Whenever I was hurting I wondered if it was the bike , or just my november fitness. But, by the end of the day I was in the leaders jersey of La Ruta! It was a long day on someone else's saddle, but It was success.

I continued to call the airlines with no progress. I won day two on the borrowed bike. I was getting used to it. I always wanted a bike with a shorter top tube so that was pretty cool. What wasn't so cool, was the absurd amount of climbing on day two. Day one was 15,000ft of uphill and day two was 12,000. Someone said that there were grades of up to 38% on pavement that day. The hardest part was never knowing where the summit was. The most soul crushing part was after all that climbing, the downhill singletrack was a slippery clay ditch that was hazardous to even walk. There was a cliff to one side that some racers even slipped off of. I was cussing the promoter, Roman, for sure. But I couldn't be too mad having won the stage and grown my race lead.

TACA was really starting to piss me off as well. They were starting to act like it was my fault that my bike wasn't with me. I implored the help of Hillary Harrison's mom, Karen, and her friend, Pipa. Karen said if anyone can get your bike back its Pipa. Pipa called and explained who I was, how expensive my bike is and how important it is that I get that bike back to continue as the leader of La Ruta. Pipa convinced them and I got my bike later that night. Apparently, it had gone to Panama for several days.

So, day three I got to ride up the Irazu Volcano on my own bike. I was putting a little pressure on myself now. Would I be tons faster on my own bike. Well the funny thing was, I couldn't get too comfortable on my own saddle. Maybe the damage was already done. I struggled up the volcano. It was only 9,000ft of climbing today. But, on the downhill I was so happy. Finally, La Ruta has a downhill. And I felt great on my bike on the downhills. It was a burly downhill and claimed a lot of victims, including JB last year.

Day four was brtually long. It was 120 Km and a lot of pedaling over very rough roads and railroad tracks. I was not very motivated to push it. I was in stage race mode...protect the lead and thats it. Do the minimum to win the overall. Thank god, I had Louise to follow the whole day. I trusted her lines and her experience on this last day. It was over 6 hours of riding for a total of 23 hours in four days!

La Ruta was crazy hard, but such a thrilling and challenging experience that I would recommend that everyone give it a try. It is exactly the hurt so good experience that mountainbike racers love!

It did take its toll on my body, though. I got a quick stomach bug for about three days after I came home and then I got a bad cold after that. Plus, my bike is trashed. The hubs won't spin at all. The white lithium grease is still packed in every part of the drive train and the kerosene is eating away at every surface it can.

But, La Ruta was an experience of a lifetime! Plus, Costa Rica is a stunning country with cool, friendly people.

I'm happy to answer any questions that you have about the race, too.


  1. hey sue! i came across your blog through the trek website! congrats on your win at la ruta! i am from costa rica, and i followed the race closely, kuddos for you girl :)

  2. What a result. I don't know many who could function on a borrowed bike for even a 2 hour race.