San José, Costa Rica, since 1956
La Ruta

La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, world's toughest mountain bike race, starts Thursday

La Ruta de Los Conquistadores mountain biking event, often called the toughest in the world, returns Thursday for its 24th edition. As always, riders will begin the three-day ride from Playa Jacó before ending up on the other side of the country in Limón, trekking through 223.1 kilometers.

“This will be the true mountain biking challenge that will truly be an all-terrain adventure with a lot of climbs and vertical falls in the tropical forests, incredible mountains and spectacular views,” said race founder Román Urbina. “I don’t think that La Ruta will be won this year on Day 1, like in other years, but on the second day.”

The male and female riders who finish first after Day 2 will each win a $1,000 prize. First place finishers after the final day’s standings will be given $2,000 each, with second place receiving $700, and $500 going to third place.

Urbina, who was inducted into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame in California earlier this year, designs a new route annually to give riders a different adventure each year. He said this also evens the playing field for foreigners and Costa Rican riders who will have to compete without having firsthand knowledge of the route.

Around 400 competitive riders have signed up for this year’s race, including last year’s winner, Luis Mejía of Colombia. The 33-year-old cyclist said the course can be so volatile in terms of climate and terrain that it presses riders mentally to always be attentive.

“The winner will be the rider who keeps his cool every day because all the days are important and you have to be alert,” Mejía said. “The race is a grind every day as the stages are extremely difficult and whoever wins can’t lower his guard at all.”

Olympic triathlete Leonardo Chacón will also be joining the race field, after recently finishing sixth at the Xterra World Championship in Hawaii.

On the women’s side, two-time champion Ángela Parra said the preparation for La Ruta is unlike any other mountain bike race because of the mental and physical toll it takes.

“We’ve been going continuously since the (Palmarín Classic cycling event in Palmares in January) with excellent results, and I’ve tried to measure myself against the best coming into La Ruta,” Parra said. “It’s a race that you have to take a little differently, not just because it’s the last of the year but because it’s so hard.”

Contact Michael Krumholtz at mkrumholtz@ticotimes.net

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