Going to bed on Friday night before stage 3 of La Ruta de los Conquistadores, I set my alarm for 7:00 am. "This can't be La Ruta!?" 3:50 am is the norm for the 6:00 am starts. There is a fine line between getting a little more sleep and having time to digest breakfast before the start. You have to eat breakfast before, well at least I do, and around two hours the least amount of time I like to leave.
Since Pua Mata and I were both contesting the podium, we skipped the rafting trip and drove to the start.
I must say it was nice to sleep in, enjoy the morning and have a nice relaxed breakfast at the hotel. We stayed at a really nice place up on the volcano with incredible views.
I knew that the stage was going to be very fast and relatively short, so we arrived at the start with plenty of time to get a good warm up. I spun around for about 30 minutes and felt like I was ready. There was no doubt in my mind that the attacks would come early and often, and that was not inaccurate. After a controlled start, it was full throttle on to a bumpy rock and puddle strewn dirt road. I was glad it was raining even though it made the conditions and visibility really challenging. Even with the rain it was warm.
Dennis Porras and his team were the most aggressive, and I had to cover numerous attacks from him as well as some of his teammates. Todd Wells pitched in and covered a few moves, as well as Paolo Montoya who could have been potentially threatened by Porras going up the road. After 30 minutes or so, things settled down a bit and a lead group formed headed up by Montoya's team.
Todd led us on to the first long railroad bridge, which was sketchy and a little slick in the rain. Halfway across, eventual stage winner Arctavia literally ran by us up the right side of the bridge on the outside of the tracks. I think the rest of us thought he was crazy and he got a huge gap. As soon as we got back on the bikes to chase, Paolo hit a concrete railroad tie pretty hard with his rear wheel and flatted. There was a little bit of chaos but soon enough I found myself in a group of three with Todd and Lico Ramirez. We all sensed the opportunity and started to ride. I did my best to match the monster pulls of Todd and Lico, but there is no way I can motor like those guys on the flats. There were plenty of stretches where Todd was pulling us along at 45kph on bumpy dirt roads. Impressive.
I was glad to be putting time on Porras, who was my main threat for second overall. I also know that anything can happen at La Ruta and had no idea what was going in with Paolo's flat tire behind.
I stayed with Todd and Lico until a bad moment on the tracks opened up a small gap, which I couldn't quite close. Once we hit the beach, I knew I was going to have to solo it in, and just made sure to stay on the gas. For me it was a pretty good effort on the flats, and I finished fourth on the stage and solidified my second place overall!
That's three second places in the last four years. It would have been great to take home the win, of course, but I gave it my best effort and left it all out there. Paolo Montoya rode a great race and is a well deserved winner. Hats off to him.
Will I win it one of these years? Maybe it will happen, maybe it won't. I have proven to myself that I am capable, and the reward, at least for me, is in trying.
Thanks for reading.