TWENTY minutes ahead of the nearestriders, Ligia Madrigal unclipped hershoe from the pedal and fished her contourmap out of its plastic casing. She was lost.None of the contestants had seen her forhours – not a smidgen of her red spandexon the forested horizon, not even a streamerof dust from her Trek’s knobby tires.She was outriding men and womenalike; only the flash-popping paparazzikept pace – in their 4x4s. Now, though, shehad taken a wrong turn and was lost in theremote highlands of Monteverde, in theTilarán Mountains of north-central CostaRica. The mistake, and two more like it,cost her the race: orienteering was theAchilles’ heel of this riding, running andrappelling warhorse.In the end, slow and steady won therace, when Rodney Jiménez was the first toroll through the finish line 12 hours and 50minutes after the race began. He ploddedkilometers behind the others until the lastleg of the race, when the three leaders werelost on the peaks of Cerro Pelado. Jiménezbacktracked, checked his points of referenceand forged on, this time on the righttrack. He was followed by Max Soto insecond place, who had never before competedin such a race.From the wee morning hours to the hotafternoon finish, it was an epic tramp overriver and woods, fought with sweat andsmiles among nine athletes.ADVENTURE races are spinning tothe forefront of the B-side sports scenearound the world, now boasting an averageof 12 annual, grandiose internationalforums for iron-lunged and stone-chiseledmen and women to muscle across finishlines, in addition to countless smaller races.Euforia, a family operation by AndrésVargas and Susan Mora, emerged from theplanning phase this year as a response to anadventure-racing void in Costa Rica.The company wants to make CostaRica a racing mecca and seed internationalraces with sponsored, outfitted and burlyCosta Rican teams. It plans races for individualsand for teams of three, and hopes tocultivate the best athletes for sponsorshipin international competitions.“We want to make sure that in everybig race there’s a team with a Costa Ricanflag,” Vargas said.In the meantime, he and Mora are hostinga series of races, some for individuals,others for teams of three, through undisclosedswaths of the country’s howlingpatches of wilderness, subjecting athletesto punishment on the slopes of volcanoes,the Central Valley mountains, and multiple-day slogs from the Caribbean to thePacific.AT 4 a.m., March 19, the racers in theinaugural expedition trotted out of the basecamp in Monteverde, a mountain town andQuaker community in the north-centralpart of the country, in an understated startwith no fanfare, gunshot or even a whistle.Their disparate speeds quickly separatedthem on the black, unpaved road, each runningwith a headlight beam bobbing aheadlike a lighthouse on a Jell-O island. Theirages ranged from early 20s to mid-40s.The road dwindled to a trickle – just afootpath that wound through the woods and overturned log bridges to a ravine. Theracers clipped in one by one and flungthemselves over the lip, rappelling down tothe black gully below, and ran out, poundingthrough the woods back to the startline. So ended the first loop, about 20 kilometers,finished in about 2.5 hours.They pulled a quick change back at theline, then pedaled away on bikes that eventuallyput the greatest distances betweenthem. As the sun rose, it called for sweatofferings, and the racers provided as if theirpores were miniature water parks. Therewas no respite, only the watering-hole stationsand medical crews dotting the route.EACH racer had a contour map and acompass, but the labyrinth of unmarkedroads between legs of the course wasenough to confuse Madrigal and the twoyoung men riding minutes behind her.Madrigal faltered once, near a forgottenmountain town called Campo de Oro, andagain, shortly after a steep climb on a hillcalled Cerro San José. She came to a deadend, perched on a mountainside with apanoramic view of everywhere she shouldhave been, before turning back.On the return trip, she crossed pathswith her two contenders, and theyploughed on together, a decision thatwould lead them speedily through thecourse until the last leg, lost on a mountainridge off the designated path and withoutwater. They would descend from there cuttingcross-country, and only two of themwould finish, far behind the winner.Hampered by flat tires, a hecklingafternoon sun, inclines that warranted dismountsand hand-pushing, the confusion oforientation and the limits of their ownendurance, the racers saw huge gaps openbetween them during the biking segment.It covered 38 km, ending at another ravineplunge, this one dropping the rappellersinto a river. The last leg was the fatefulCerro Pelado, which cost the three initialleaders the race.Jiménez, the unexpected packhorsehovering kilometers behind the leaders,won the race, followed by Soto, who collapsedwith a smile behind the finish line.“The heat would kill you going upCerro Pelado,” Jiménez said. Soto said themental fatigue was the killer.EUFORIA plans a one-day trek nearSan José May 14, a multi-day race betweenboth coasts starting July 23, and anothermulti-day epic between volcanoes startingSept. 23. For information, visit www.euforiaexpeditions.com or call 263-2752, 386-8423 or 849-1271.