Today's stage was 75km with about 13,000 feet (3,900 meters) of climbing. The roads were the steepest I have ever seen in my life. Even defending La Ruta champion, Manny Prado, who is from Costa Rica, told me he has never seen anything steeper.
This place does not have one flat spot and the roads they build do not switchback. They head straight down or up from point A to point B. Riding up (and down) the hills today was nearly impossible on a bike. I cannot imagine trying to drive a car or motorcycle on them, but it does not seem to phase the Costa Ricans. It's quite normal here to have over 30% grade.
Ben Sontag and Alex Grant (Cannondale Factory Racing), had another awesome day out in the front of the men's race. They are sitting in first and second, respectively, in the overall standings. They have been battling with the lead pack both days in a very tight race. It has been exciting to hear their firsthand race stories each evening.
After two days of racing, the women's race has established a bit of a pecking order. Angela, Louise and I again finished first, second and third in today's stage and the overall rankings remain the same as well. However, today Louise and I were much closer to Angela. She was on fire on day 1 and was more within reach today. I'm hoping that momentum will continue. Just like yesterday, they both climbed away from me on the very first 8km steep climb. I was unable to go with them and had to settle into my own rhythm again.
My body felt good today, and I am really pleased with how I am riding, but I got a bit discouraged about halfway through the stage. I rode almost the whole day alone and was not getting any time splits or reliable mileages. I had the course profile zip-tied to my handle bars, but the route had changed slightly since the heavy rains a few weeks ago. I did not really have accurate information about distances or aid station mileages. I also had no idea if Angela and Louise were an hour up the road or just minutes.
The cumulative result of these things was that I lost focus for a while in the middle of the stage. I was afraid to push too hard for fear that the course was longer than I expected or an aid station too far away. It is also extremely hard to self motivate for five and a half hours when there is no one within sight to push you.
There were a few times today where I honestly felt like I was out on a casual ride. Don't get me wrong, it was a very challenging day, and I was not taking it easy, but really attacking over the tops of climbs and hanging it out on the descents makes a big difference in a multi-hour race. It's hard to put in that extra 1% when you are alone and unsure of the course.
I feel that if I'd had someone in sight as a rabbit, I would have been able to shave some time off today. If I'm in the same situation tomorrow, I will just have to visualize another competitor and be sure to keep racing 100%.
I still had a solid day and rolled into the stage as the 27th rider overall. I felt thankful that my brakes worked all day on the terrifyingly steep and slippery descents. I will be putting in fresh brake pads for tomorrow's 30km downhill finish.
I also have to give a shout out to the group from Carmichael Training Systems, including Chris Carmichael himself. They have a group of about 15 athletes racing here along with full mechanic and aid station support. They have graciously taken me under their wing and really made things easier for me in this race. One of my favorite parts of this race has been how all the American athletes have banded together to help each other out like this. Sam (Schultz of Trek), Blake (Harlan of Jamis), Alex (Grant), Ben (Sonntag) and Matt (Ohran of Cannondale) have also been keeping an eye out for each other and for me. It's a pleasant surprise to travel this far from home and still have friends who are watching your back.
Tomorrow's stage is the Irazu Volcano day. One big massive climb and one big massive descent in 75km.