It took four days and more than 17 hours, but Todd Wells on Saturday became the first American to win La Ruta de los Conquistadores.
As he did on stage 3, Wells kept second-place Rom Akerson in check on stage 4 to make sure the Costa Rican didn’t close the 10 minute, 18 second gap between the two. Colombia’s Luis Mejia finished third overall after winning two stages.
The 19th running of La Ruta saw Wells riding from Costa Rica’s Pacific coast to the country’s Caribbean shore in 17 hrs 18 mins 06 secs. Akerson was 10:18 back and Mejia was 27:28 off the lead.
“It’s been a stressful couple of days since I got the (leader’s) jersey on the first day,” Wells said at the post-post race press conference. “I was lucky to get enough time on the first stage and be able to sit back and conserve.”
Akerson, however, had to burn valuable matches on every stage to stay within striking distance of Wells. The 27 year old was born in the U.S. but has lived in Costa Rica for practically his entire life. This year’s La Ruta was Akerson’s ninth and Wells’ first, and while Wells’ reputation proceeded him Akerson opted to stay on five-time La Ruta champ Lico Ramirez’s wheel on stage one rather than marking the American.
Essentially, stage 1 was the deciding day of La Ruta, Akerson explained.
“When we were in Carara [national park] I was feeling good. But I knew it was a long day. I was holding back a little there. I had [Wells] in sight and I was staying with Lico and before I knew it [Wells] was around the corner; before I knew it he was a minute ahead. But I stayed calm and stayed with Lico thinking that when we got on the road [Lico] could close the gap.
“He didn’t have it in him and he couldn’t close that gap and Todd opened up a bigger hole than I could control,” Akerson said.
On the subsequent stages Akerson managed to whittle Wells’ lead to around seven minutes, which at La Ruta is tenuous at best. But the constant attacking took its toll on Akerson and in the end he gave back three minutes to finish with his best showing ever at La Ruta.
“I’m really happy,” Akerson said after the race. “I gave it 100 percent of what I had. I didn’t save any energy at all. I’m really stoked I took second. I’m really happy Wells won. I think it’s a lot to look up to a high-level athlete who is such a humble guy.”
While Wells and Akerson garnered much of the attention after the final stage, it was Costa Rican Moises Hernandez who won the 120km day in a time of 4:00:30. Akerson and Wells finished second with the same time of 4:08:09. Mejia rounded out the top four at 4:10:13.
Amongst the overall top-10 finishers were Ramirez at 39 minutes back; Alex Grant at 47:40; defending champion Ben Sonntag, who dropped out of contention after crashing on stage one, at 1:15:22 back and American Gerry Cody, who slipped into tenth at 2:11:08 off of Wells.
Costa Rica’s Adriana Rojas won every stage of La Ruta, finishing the race in 22:22:27. She topped Americans Rebecca Rusch and Louise Kobin by 1:19:38 and 1:45:05 respectively.
The win, Rojas said through an interpreter, “For me inside it means a lot. It’s very big for me. It’s good for my portfolio and I’m really glad to have won La Ruta de los Conquistadores.”
The reason Rojas had such a huge gap on Rusch and Kobin is that the two were riding together in a group on stage four and took a wrong turn. The mistake took them on a costly 22km detour.
“Between aid 1 and 2 we got lost, a big group of us like eight or 10 people,” Rusch said. “And all of a sudden we were just going on a little tour of Costa Rica.”
The victory for Wells makes him only the fourth non-Costa Rican to win the grueling trek from the Pacific to the Caribbean in 19 years. Going into the 2011 edition of La Ruta only three outsiders had won the event — German Ben Sonntag, Thomas Frischknecht of Switzerland and Colombian Leonardo Páez.
The overall top 10 men:
1. Todd Wells (USA) 17:18:06
2. Rom Akerson (CRC) +10:18
3. Luis Mejía (COL) +27:28
4. Lico Ramírez (CRC) +39:00
5. Moises Hernandez (CRC) +42:30
6. Milton Ramos (HON) +45:40
7. Alex Grant (USA) +47:40
8. Ben Sonntag (GER) +1:15:22
9. Alexander Sanchez (CRC) +1:47:25
10. Gerry Cody (USA) +2:11:08
Overall top 5 five women
1. Adriana Rojas (CRC) 22:22:27
2. Rebecca Rusch (USA) 23:42:05
3. Louise Kobin (USA) 24:07:32
4. Jane Rynbrandt (USA) 24:44:20
5. Ligia Madrigal (CRC) 26:16:35