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Costa Rica, a country a little smaller than West Virginia in Central America, is one of the most geographically diverse countries in the world.
From rainforest to cloud forests, to tropical lakes and rivers, to volcanoes and mountains, to pristine Pacific and Caribbean beaches, there is something for every outdoor enthusiast — including two epic mountain bike stage races.
In its third year, the five-stage North Face Costa Rica Trophy Bike event runs from Oct. 12 to 16. La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, meanwhile, is Nov. 17 to 20.
The North Face Costa Rica Trophy Bike has grown in popularity with racers from the U.S., France, Panama, Ecuador, Mexico and Argentina participating, including Olympic gold medalist Miguel Martinez, Federico “Lico” Ramirez, and Marathon World Cup champ Thomas Dietsch.
This year the event has expanded to five stages, crossing the country from the seaside town of Samara on the Pacific coast, crossing three volcanoes, and finishing in Limon on the Caribbean and promises to be monumental.
The race covers 450km (about 280 miles) over five days of racing. The first stage starts in Samara, a quiet touristic beach town on the Pacific Coast and sets off over flat terrain momentarily before heading skyward to the tropical cloud forest of Monteverde 120 km later.
Day two brings back the stage that saw an epic battle between Miguel Martinez and local pro Federico “Lico” Ramirez of the Pizza Hut-BCR. The stage starts in Monteverde and while this stage lacks the distance of the previous day, at only 69 km, it makes up for it in difficulty. The stage is 100-perce t dirt, no asphalt, with incredible climbs where on a clear day you can see Lake Nicaragua in neighboring Nicaragua and some of the most technical single track found anywhere in the world.
Stage 3 from Arenal to San Ramon continues with more climbing and adds a little more variety in the types of terrain the riders will encounter. After stage 3 there is a bus transfer from San Ramon to San Pedro where stage 4 will begin. From San Pedro the riders will start climbing almost immediately to the highest point in the race at over 3,000 meters, or roughly 9,000 feet, to Irazu Volcano. After summiting the riders will have to negotiate a technical descent all the way to Turriabla.
Stage 5 brings one more volcano to climb — Turrialba — before finishing in the Caribbean seaside town of Limon. All in all the riders will cover all types of terrain: singletrack, fire roads, asphalt, river crossings, bridge crossings, with more than 6,000 meters of climbing.
The North Face Costa Rica Trophy Bike has something for all riders, of all abilities. The event is open to mountain bike enthusiasts who do not wish to compete, they can enter the event and complete all the stages but do not earn a spot on the general classification. If they wish to stop and not finish the stage they are welcomed to start the next day. This gives the cycling enthusiast a sense of accomplishment while staying within their limits and progressing, and not getting penalized.
The race stays at four and five star hotels, from the Villas Plays Samara in Samara which are private villas right on the beach, to El Establo with gorgeous views of the cloud forest that is Monteverde, to Los Lagos at the foot of the volcanic cone of Arenal.