A shifting group of six to eight elite riders hammered the first stage of La Ruta de Los Conquistadores, with Ben Sonntag countering a late attack to win the day.
Sonntag, who is German but lives in the States, completed the 106km (65mi) stage from the Pacific coast town of Jaco to the suburbs of San Jose in 5hrs 58mins 38secs, 1min 41secs ahead of Columbian Luis Meija Sanchez. Sonntag’s American teammate on Cannondale Factory Racing, Alex Grant, finished third, 2mins 29secs off the lead.
Sonntag, Sanchez and Grant were in the lead group for the entire race. They were joined at various times by five-time La Ruta champ “Lico” Ramirez, Ismael Sanchez of Spain, America Sam Schultz and Costa Ricans Milton Ramos and Eddy Perez.
It was Sanchez who put in the attack about 8km from the finish on a 400-meter kicker with a 20 percent pitch. But Sonntag was able to counter and then pulled away for the win.
A La Ruta rookie, Schultz caught back to the leaders after an early flat. Another flat and a late day bonk saw the Subaru-Trek rider lose about 22 minutes to Sonntag. Last year’s La Ruta champ, Manny Prado, let the leaders go early in the race but slowly reeled them back to finish in the top ten 20 minutes back.
Colombian racer Angela Parra took the podium in the women’s field
Defending champ Louise Kobin of the U.S. placed second with American Rebecca Rusch in third. Kobin and Parra rode together a good portion of the race until Parra pulled ahead on one of the many climbs of the day.
Both riders made a wrong turn at one of the many intersections along the Jaco to Santana 56-mile route, but after about three minutes a local pointed them in the right direction. Parra was new to mountain biking the first time she rode La Ruta several years ago; this year she has been training hard and expects to improve her performance. She said she was happy to come in first on the most difficult day of the race.
Considering that Costa Rica has seen weeks of heavy rain prior to the 18th edition of La Ruta, stage 1 was relatively dry compared to years past. The notoriously sticky mud of the Carrara National Park was mostly non-existent. What wasn’t different was the climbing — more than 14,000 feet.
Even though Wednesday’s stage doesn’t have quite as much climbing, riders will nonetheless take in a combined 10,000 feet of ascents. The 48-mile stage is expected to take the top riders about 4.5 hours to complete.
The 2010 La Ruta will finish Saturday on the Caribbean coast after 250 miles and four days of racing.