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Nov. 5-7, 1999

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'99 Preview
World Cup Racing
Dirt Camp

Letters to the Editor

Stage One
Stage Two
Stage Three
Route Map

"The Toughest Mountain Bike Race on the Planet"

and over 20,000 feet of elevation gain

Pre-Race Dispatch
Costa Rica, in all its roughly civilized exterior, appears thus far to be truly a complex, wet playground. I believe it has rained here more often than not in the last 48 hours! Most of the foreign athletes have arrived in San José, in the central region of the country. Today, we were transported to the Pacific Coast and a small resort, Punta Leona. The original race start, as of a month ago, was 30km south of here, however, due to heavy rains, they've had to change the course. Our bus ride from San José revealed the terrain we would cover on day one. The athletes chatted nervously trying to figure out how in the world the conquistadors traversed this land way back when.

"Truth be told to you all now, I have this deep-seeded fear of technical mountain biking; it scares the crap out of me actually..."

I've met several folks who did the race last year, only one of whom actually completed the entire course. Attrition reasons range from technical problems to fatigue and dehydration. The mud and rain seem to do a number on your bike, while the heat, humidity, and rain affect your body. They say the climbs on day one and two are relentless — day one, the climb up to our first "summit" will take most riders four to five hours. I think my lower back is already twitching with rebellion.

It's still a bit of a mystery as to exactly how much distance and elevation gain will be covered each day. It is a mixed bag of information given by veteran athletes and race promoters. They say day one is very "removed," and if you can get through day one, you should be okay. All in all it appears as though we have a heck of an adventure ahead of us.

Costa Ricans come in droves for this race, most of them never racing outside the country. And each year, with a few exceptions, they virtually smoke the foreign contingent. If one is daring enough to take off with these riders on day one, chances are you'll pay later.

As for me, many friends have asked why I'm doing this race — given that my background is not in mountain biking. I even roped a couple of friends from Contentlab in Silicon Valley into racing and sponsoring our "team." I've been telling people that it sounded like a great way to see Costa Rica — always wanted to check this place out.

Costa Rica
Truth be told to you all now, I have this deep-seeded fear of technical mountain biking; it scares the crap out of me actually. Yes, it's true, I've done a ton of brutal mountain biking in adventure racing, but I've never done an official mountain bike race before. So I thought I'd dive in and squelch some fears. It seems to be the best way for me to make that happen (it's the 'jump off the high dive if you're afraid of water' theory — don't do this at home). So far I'm just wondering if I can still descend at my "controlled" pace and hit the cutoff times. My goals are to finish and not get last — never thought I'd say that. My strategy is to go out really slow and hold pace. I'll keep you posted.

Terry Schneider, MountainZone.com Correspondent

The 2000 race will take place from November 17-19. Stay tuned for coverage!

The History
La Ruta de los Conquistadores is the brainchild of Roman Ubina. In 1993, Ubina brought 30 of his friends to Costa Rica to ride the Pacific to Caribbean coast trail, which duplicates the route first blazed in the 1560s by Spaniards on horseback. Ubina's past experiences as a triathlete and ultra marathon road cyclist helped him create this challenging course. Through the years, news of this race has spread, bringing this year's number of competitors into the hundreds. Competitors will travel from all over the world, including Australia and Switzerland to compete in the seventh annual La Ruta de los Conquistadores.

The Race
This route, which took Spaniards 20 years to establish, will take La Ruta competitors three days, with stop times each night. Most of the participants ride unsupported, however private support crews are permitted. The competitors travel anywhere from 80 to 100 miles each day with roughly an 11-hour window to finish each day's course. Racers will ride through rainforest, banana plantations, farm towns, and volcanic regions, and maneuver their bikes through gravel, mud, rocks, sand, and ash. With the rainy season lasting into November and La Niña bringing heavier rains than usual to the area, participants suspect to find themselves carrying their bikes through mud-ridden road portions, for up to 15 miles, with temperatures ranging from 40°F to 100°F. The extremes, the layout of the course, and the time constraints make this mountain bike race one, if not the toughest, in the world.

Susan Overton, MountainZone.com Staff

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