PLAYA BONITA, Costa Rica (VN) — After a two-year drought and on the 20th anniversary of La Ruta de los Conquistadores, a Costa Rican crossed the finish line first on Saturday in Playa Bonita.
On the shore of the Caribbean Sea, Paolo Montoya repeated his 2004 victory, taking the 2012 edition of La Ruta with a total time of 10:40:27. American Alex Grant continued his string of second-place showings at 7 minutes, 51 seconds. Third place went to Costa Rican Dennis Porras, who was nearly 9 minutes off the lead.
Montoya’s win comes after a run of victories by non-Costa Rican riders. Athletes from Costa Rica won what is widely regarded as the first mountain bike stage race from 2007 through 2009. In 2010 Ben Sonntag of Germany won the race. In 2011 it was American Todd Wells, who was back this year in hopes of defending his title.
But it was Montoya who took control on the first of three stages. Wells was in second place going into Friday’s stage 2, but he couldn’t keep pace up Irazu Volcano and dropped more than 10 minutes off the lead.
Going into Saturday’s final stage, the race was Montoya’s to lose. He finished 13th after flatting a tire, while Wells crossed in third just more than seven minutes ahead of the race leader.
“I suffered a lot. I was doing well until I had a flat,” Montoya said after the stage. “My team was nervous and wanted to get things done fast. Fortunately, I could stay in the GC.”
The time Wells gained due to Montoya’s mechanical, however, was not enough to bring him a repeat victory. The American finished fourth overall with a time of 10:52:23, nearly 12 minutes off the lead.
For Montoya, the victory not only cemented him as a two-time winner and therefore a hero in Costa Rica, it kept a family tradition going. Paolo Montoya’s father, Rodrigo, is a two-time champ who won the race in 1994 and 1995.
“I’m honored to win twice, like my dad did at La Ruta,” Montoya said. “I think I suffered more this time than last time. The first day was really hard. Yesterday I felt good and today I got a flat. Thanks to my teammates and my dad and team staff.“
Grant was in the podium mix, sitting second overall going into the final stage, but he had a deficit of more than 13 minutes to make up if he was to break his string of two runner-up finishes and overtake Montoya.
While Grant finished well ahead of Montoya in fourth on the final stage, the American took back just five minutes. It was enough, however, to notch his third consecutive second-place showing at La Ruta.
“It was hard. I knew it would be hard from the start. As soon as they said ‘Go,’ it was like a full-on ’cross race, with puddles and chaos,” Grant said. “I had to cover a few attacks. … Then Wells and Lico (Ramirez) drove the pace and I sat on them.“
Pua Mata, meanwhile, continued to outpace the small women’s field on stage three. She finished the stage 16th overall to take the women’s title in her first-ever attempt at La Ruta. Her overall time was 12:35:28.
But with her first La Ruta came the unknowns, the main ones being the infamous railroad-trestle river crossings.
“Those bridges are scary. I can pedal my bike, but I can’t walk across bridges. I was holding everyone up and I felt bad,” Mata said. “The first bridge … everyone told me what it would be like and I was trying to focus on each trestle and not look beyond that. A couple had the metal steps. A few times I could feel my shoes slipped, but I survived.”
And then there was the racing, which at about 40 miles for the day, meant a wicked pace.
“I was in survival mode,” Mata said. “Today was the hardest day, but I got through it.”