A very appropriate title for a special La Ruta del los Conquistadores 2013. This year La Ruta introduced a fatbike category and it was going to be all about the additional weight and four inch fat tires on the coast to coast mountain bike race. The fat bike provides great traction on loose climbs but that’s a lot of rubber on the ground on the flat road sections. I borrowed a Carver Ti from a friend, primarily made for snow, but it was so much fun on the dirt too.
I only had four weeks to get in shape for this year’s race as Andrea and I had just returned to Costa Rica after almost a year travelling in Central and South America. We figured I had been outside on a bike around 15 times during that time. I picked up my Specialized S-Works from a friends house along with a thirty four pound 9:Zero:7 fatbike for training. These two completely different bikes provided for some awesome workouts both on the race course and over on the Nicoya Peninsula.
This year I would once again be riding for Team CoreCo, a Costa Rican Non-Profit team with around twenty riders competing in La Ruta. The main theme for the team would be ‘Gordo es Guapo’ and ‘Gorda es Guapa’, or ‘Fat is Cute’, with the fatbike riders competing for highly coveted custom made belt buckles.
Team CoreCo consisted of riders from Costa Rica, USA, England, South Africa and Belgium, with all riders having a great positive attitude and being more than capable of throwing around a weighty fatbike. We had full logistical support of team mechanics and crew members supplying all the nutrition, drinks and food we would gouge down over the three day event. It really makes a difference to be able to finish a stage and pass the bike over to experienced mechanics to clean and prepare for the following day. Team CoreCo is a truly awesome team to ride for.
At the eleventh hour or around 5.45am on the morning of day one I decided to swap bikes and instead of my trusty 9:Zero:7 steed I went with a friend’s slightly lighter bike which was also setup tubeless and had thinner tires. This is like doing all of your Ironman training on one bike and then just before racking it into transition changing to another completely different bike that you’ve never ridden before! I hoped the risk would not backfire on me with three hundred kilometers of tough riding ahead.
Six o’clock came, the lead Landrover pulled away, and the overhead sound of a helicopter buzzing the riders filled the air. It was time to party! This year we started from the Best Western Jaco instead of the Los Sueños resort in Herradura giving us a shorter warmup before the big climbs of the day. Andrea was able to come to the start to wish me well and I wouldn’t see her again until the finish line.
I had already completed the tough day one climbs six or seven times since I’d been in Herradura so had no concerns about not being able to ride them. However, I did have concerns about the mud in the Carara National Park and the gravel downhill section where I wrecked the previous year, putting a premature end to my race. Fortunately, the weather cooperated making for far less mud than I expected, and having fat tires made the loose downhill sections a lot more stable and grippy.
Just when things were going great disaster struck! About half way through Carara I was riding uphill very hard when I felt the derailleur slip, and probably due to human error, the chain suddenly became two pieces. I was gutted and knew I had screwed up by not carrying a spare chain link or tool – it was going to be a long walk to our team mechanics! Luckily there were heavily rutted hills in our path now so I started to push alongside everyone else. Upon reaching a flatter section where most people were riding again I threw the bike down to evaluate my options. I had only one – continue pushing and it was not going to be fun. Before starting again, I turned around right at the exact time to see the owner of the bike shop in Cobano on the Nicoya Peninsula whom I had met previously a few weeks ago. He was my savior when he pulled out a spare link and got me going in less than two minutes. Many thanks Douglas, you saved my ass!
No more problems please. It didn’t seem long until I had passed the wrecking-zone, made it through the snake and crocodile filled river crossings, and was heading up the long grind of a climb to El Rodeo where the stage was to finish.
The last hour or so became a torrential downpour making the entire finish area and last 20 kilometers of the stage a wet and slippery quagmire, and with a chain that kept locking up due to no lube I thankfully made it home. I had seen this finish area before, but this time there was no bloody clothing or medic requirements and the only thing remaining was cheering on my team mates.
The only fault I can pick with this race is that the end of day one and the start of day two are not the same place so there is some distance across the country that is not ridden, I think it’s around thirty kilometers. If the race organizers were to add that in making for a true coast to coast race, it would be icing on the cake. That being said, we started day two at Terramall, just outside of Tres Rios. Six o’clock became 6.45am due to many riders being stuck in traffic heading to the start line.
When we arrived at the race start, I saw that my camelback was half empty because I had left the mouth valve open. My nutrition had spilled all over the coveted race awards and that was going to be a sticky mess for Will to clean up (Oops -Sorry!). It was a mad rush to find my Infinit nutrition to top it back off again, but I made it and was ready to go!
Today’s ride was pretty much a demanding uphill slog up the flanks of Volcan Irazu and Turrialba followed by a long, technical descent to the finish line at Catie some seventy nine kilometers later. I had ridden the uphill section a bunch of times on my super light Specialized and was confident that there wouldn’t be any problems, at least not until the dry downhill riverbed.
Not sure if I had eaten too much Costa Rican Gallo Pinto but after successfully climbing up Irazu the flatulence I was suffering was far more aggressive to the point that I knew it was no longer just hot air. I did not want to see a dirty brown stain on my pretty green CoreCo bibs so I pulled over on an isolated gravel section and did my duty – this was no easy task, having to hurriedly remove shirt, camelback vest and bibs! No sooner had I finished than I turned to see Marco climbing the hill right next to me. I knew this guy was quick and I aimed to stay with him as long as I could making for some thrilling downhill chases on a very rocky riverbed and some crazy fast tarmac leading to the finish. After thirty kilometers battling it out, we both crossed the finish line together where I was shattered. I still held on to third place in the fatbike category by thirty minutes.
Today was a very slight lay in with a start time of 7am from Catie and a mere hundred and twenty kilometers to Playa Bonita on the Caribbean coast. Temperatures were going to be considerably higher now that we were much lower and on the coastal flats. There were going to be seven or more railroad bridges to carry the bikes across, so it was definitely going to be a challenging day.
We were once again escorted the first few kilometers out of town by what seemed like a fleet of Landrovers and police cars before being released into some fun and fast sweeping turns. Climbing was limited to around 2700 feet and although considerably less than previous days, there were some long and steep off-road sections where riders around me were having to push. Once out of town and the climb towards Turrialba was complete, the road became relatively flat with the second half riding through banana plantations, along railroad tracks, and carrying the bike across railroad bridges, some with a raging river a few hundred feet below. Fortunately the race organizers did their best to patch up the worst sections of the bridges where multiple trestles were missing – it would not have been a smart move to miss a foot placement whilst at the same time either carrying the bike or pushing it along one of the tracks.
The Garmin eventually went flat with around eighteen kilometers and one more aid station remaining so I didn’t really care anymore, especially now that I could smell the ocean and the end of the journey. Other than a few miles on road, I was now on a sandy track running along the ocean which was a beautiful sight, and even better was seeing the Limon port of Moin farther along the coast. At this point I was riding alone with a few people along the road cheering me on whilst providing false distances to the finish. I gave up believing them by the third shout out. A couple more bends and I could see the flags of Specialized and various other sponsors leading the way onto the sandy beach of Playa Bonita where the sixty people who finished ahead of me were either recovering with an ice cold cerveza or cooling off in the ocean still clad in bike attire!
For me, finishing an endurance event such as this or an Ironman triathlon is an emotional time where I just want to stand still and ponder over the achievement. I was very happy that I had made it to the end in one piece this year and I didn’t tear up my loaner bike! Now it was time to grab a beer, congratulate the other CoreCo riders as they finished, and wait for my wife to arrive after her own big adventure driving here from Jaco today.
A very successful race with great support and camaraderie from Team CoreCo riders, mechanics and old and new friends alike. Bring on Fat La Ruta 2014 and a great year of fat biking in between now and then.
October 24th – October 26th 2013