My apologies for not writing this report last night after Stage 4, but the clean sheets of my hotel bed were just too enticing. Waking up at 6:30 am felt like luxury after so many days of 3:30 am wake up calls.
We started our final stage of La Ruta in pouring rain. The stage profile gave us 40km of typical Costa Rica climbing, followed by 80 km of flat roads to the Caribbean. Although the profile is flat, many of the roads are rough and imbedded with rocks. There are multiple river crossings and the infamous railroad track riding and terrifying trestle bridges.
It is the sort of stage where it pays big dividends to make sure you are not alone on the flats. It is by no means an easy road day. There are some great descents and smooth pavement sections, but those are regularly interspersed with the tracks, bridges, and puddles that all require power pedaling. The riders with nothing left in their legs would be hating it.
I started the day solidly in third place in the GC and feeling a bit flat. I was a bit worried on the first 20 km of climbing because I wasn't really turning the pedals over that well and was hoping the day would not be spent alone suffering and watching the kilometers slowly tick by.
I got a boost of motivation when I found myself with Chris Carmichael and one of his coaches, Jane Rynbrandt. We banded together and motivated each other up the final steep climb. That's when the sky opened up and the rain really let loose for our descent. I have never seen more rain in my life. It was impossible to see and the pavement was running with water as we flew downhill.
Luckily I was surrounded by people who were good, steady riders. After the descent, the rain subsided and we organized into a well oiled peloton of four to five people. We picked up a really strong roadie from Alabama and another Gringo who was feeling strong. I was incredibly grateful to have some good wheels to follow and people who were willing to share the work. The company and camaraderie were a welcome change from so many hours of riding alone this week.
We were cruising along at 30km/hr and flying toward the finish. The railroad tracks abruptly put and end to our coordinated efforts and split up our Gringo Peloton. After the first section of tracks, it was just me and Mr. Alabama together trading pulls. The trestle bridges were scary this year. They are so high above the rivers and so long and offer huge consequence for a mis-step.
I heaved my bike onto my shoulders, took a deep breath and walked across slowly. The rain had mad the railroad ties slippery with bike cleats on. I heaved a bit sigh of relief when I was safely past the last one. I was enjoying the railroad riding sections because I felt I had some power left in my legs. My friend, Matt, who has done La Ruta seven times told me that the key to the tracks was to push a big gear and keep up as much speed as possible to smooth out the railroad ties. It seemed to work and I was pulling away from my group and passing more people.
When I reached the final aid station 20km from the finish, I could see Angela (Parra) and Louise (Kobin) turning off the tracks just about a minute ahead of me. The last 20km along the beach were an energy suck. The rains in last few weeks had flooded the road and there were giant puddles everywhere that covered the whole road. I was dodging from side to side, looking for the fastest lines and the smallest puddles. Most of them were shallow enough to ride through as long as you had momentum and just went for it. However I went into a few that came well above the axles on my bike. Twice I was toppled over and completely submerged in the brown, muddy water. It's alway amazing how long the last 10km of a race can feel, even though I'd covered hundreds of kilometers this week.
The welcoming beach finish finally came, and I finished the stage just a minute behind Louise and Angela. This stage was one of the most rewarding stages because I had a really fun group of people to share the workload and keep me company for most of the day. It is energizing to form a cohesive group and make friends out on the race course.
Like most of the athletes, I went straight into the ocean as a reward for a really hard week of racing. I am really proud of how I raced this week and with my performance. I finished third in a very strong women's category. Unlike 2006, La Ruta did not have its way with me. Instead, I raced well, gave the course the respect it deserved and had a fantastic time. It goes to show you how experience and the right frame of mind can completely change a situation.
Thank you to the La Ruta race organizers for a fantastic time and thanks to all the riders who shared time with me over the past four days. Perhaps I will see you again!