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LA RUTA JOURNAL: Stage 3
That’s the only way to describe stage 3 of this year’s La Ruta de los Conquistadores stage race. Rain, wind, cold temperatures, a seemingly endless climb up an 11,000-foot Irazu volcano and the longest, rockiest, muddiest, most punishing descent this Bike magazine reporter has ever encountered.
There were lots of shattered racers at the finish in Aquiares, a coffee plantation at the base of the Turrialba volcano—and you can count this mid-packer as one of the shattered. After today’s stage in the Costa Rican high country, I feel fortunate (I guess) to be among the survivors who will start the final stage on Saturday.
Coming from Southern California, there’s nothing to prepare you for what we faced today. The main climb, which rose about 8,000 feet and passed through multiple ecosystems before topping out in the sleeting rain and wind, was light years more burly than anything I could ever find back home. Thank God for that. The surface ranged from pavement to super-technical rock gardens to muddy cow paths that were occasionally occupied by cows.
Once we finally reached the peak, us La Ruta rookies were under the impression that it was mostly downhill to the finish. That’s what the course profile indicated. But what followed after that summit was a painful couple of hours for most people (more than a couple of hours for many). Lots of short, granny gear climbs, more hike-a-bikes and the ever-present La Ruta stew of mud and rocks.
Finally the downhills came to bless us with their promise of gravity assistance, but alas, we were tricked. Yes, the tires pointed down the slope, but many sections required even more effort than the climbs. I’m not sure what sort of vehicles use these chunked up piles of rocks and muck—wait, come to think of it, I did see one old jeep out there, but it was buried up to its hubs and abandoned—but mountain bikes seem less than ideal for negotiating them. But we had to get off that mountain, so down we went. It took a long time. It hurt. It wore out my almost new disc brake pads. I saw people crash, I saw people who had recently crashed. I saw some people just sitting there.
I managed to keep it upright, at a very slow pace, and limped across the finish line with a time of five hours, 41 minutes. It was strictly survival mode. I’m not sure where I stand now in the results, as a quick glance shows that somehow my time was never recorded during yesterday’s stage 2. Who knows, maybe my transponder went for a swim in one of those river crossings, but I suppose that’s beside the point. I’m three quarters of the way to the finish in Limon. There’s a beach there. And beer.