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Defending champion breaks handlebars
Cannondale's Ben Sonntag saw his hopes for winning the general classification dashed on day 1 of the La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica on Wednesday. The defending champion crashed early in the stage - during the treacherous jungle section and broke his handlebars.
"Before the feed station on the first descent, I messed up and crashed and my handlebars snapped," said an obviously disappointed Sonntag.
"I basically walked the whole jungle and then I kept on riding. I went something like 45km with a broken handlebar. I was holding onto a little bit of it. Every descent I walked because I was afraid it would snap on the other side given the damage already. I knew I wouldn't win any more so it wasn't worth the risk."
To get as far as he did with a partial bar, the German moved his brake and shifter controls inboard just enough to have a nub of broken handlebar to hold on to.
Due to some confusion about what parts could be switched and where on the course, Sonntag persisted past the first aid station he encountered until he got confirmation from officials that he could legally swap bars and not be disqualified.
After the swap, he continued onward, but finished about one hour after stage winner Todd Wells.
"I took my time and switched out the bar at aid station 3. Then I just rode it home."
Looking ahead, Sonntag says he will work for his teammate Alex Grant, who helped him last year, as well as target daily results.
"For sure, I want to win a stage. I'd like to come out of this with something," he said.
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Past women's winner opens race with top three finish
If there is one thing you can count on at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, it's a solid ride by a smiling Louise Kobin (Global Biorythm Events). Even on the tough days, Kobin finds a way to enjoy herself while competing in Costa Rica's best known mountain bike stage race.
"This La Ruta is number eight," said Kobin to Cyclingnews. "It's an adventure. The race is always a little different. I like the people down here and it's fun."
A hot and humid 108km stage 1 on Wednesday turned into one of those tough days.
"I felt pretty good in the beginning, but I had a rough spell on the pavement climbing," said Kobin. "I was bonking a bit and had a hard time getting some food in."
Kobin finished third after riding in second for some of the day. Rebecca Rusch passed her on the pavement climb to take over second place.
"It would have been nice to be a little faster today, but anything can happen and tomorrow is another day," said the experienced racer, who won La Ruta in 2004, 2005 and 2009.
Kobin doesn't race as much as she used to, but she still takes on some of the toughest races in the world when she does get out. "Earlier this year, I did an eight-day stage race in Italy - the Ironbike. I also did a 350-mile Alaska ultrasport race in March."
Although she claims she is getting old and slowing down, Kobin knows to ride strong over many days and remains a favorite to watch for the remaining stages.
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Off-road triathlete and road racer moves up to second
Rom Akerson (Specialized) was not on the default list of pre-race favorites for the 19th La Ruta de los Conquistadores, but after two days of solid racing, the Costa Rican is the top challenger for current race leader Todd Wells (Specialized).
After stage 2 on Thursday, Akerson sits 7:11 down on Wells. On stage 1, Akerson had finished third, 13:44 down on Wells. Thanks to both Akerson's effort on stage 2 and a flat by leader Wells, their gap has been cut almost in half.
"I had a good race yesterday and felt good. Today, I wanted to protect my third place," said the 27-year-old Akerson to Cyclingnews. "Milton Ramos was in second, but he got dropped, so I hung onto Todd. I have a lot of respect for Todd - I'm learning a lot to watch him ride. It helps me a lot to ride with someone at his level of racing."
Akerson made his move after he saw rival Federico Ramirez start to show some signs of fatigue.
"At one point, I saw weakness in both Ramirez and Wells, and I had a feeling I should go. I did and thank god I had a good race. I had my fingers crossed out there that my motor wouldn't break and those guys wouldn't catch me."
Akerson won the U23 category at the 2006 Xterra Worlds in Maui. He was selected for Costa Rica's first pro triathlon team. "I raced with them for awhile and there was a situation with my passport for Pan Am Games and I didn't get to go."
He's also been competing on the road for one of the best Central American teams, Junta de Protección Social.
"I raced for them and we had a little misunderstanding, so I quit that team. Specialized offered me a bike and a position and I took it. I trained hard...
American's speed and consistency is paying off
Gerry Cody (Herbalife24) has surprised himself with consistent top 10 riding at the La Ruta de los Conquistadores mountain bike stage race in Costa Rica. In each of the first three stages, he placed in the top 10 and now sits in 10th overall with one stage remaining.
"It's unbelievable. This is the most incredible event ever," said Cody to Cyclingnews. "The terrain is insane."
"This race is billed as the toughest event on the planet. I wanted to check it out. It's by far the toughest event I've ever done." Cody, who lives in Los Angeles, California, heard of the race through his friend and past winner Manny Prado.
Cody has never done a mountain bike stage race before although he has twice raced the Leadville 100, including finishing ninth and 10th in the past two years.
His strategy is pretty simple. "I just hang onto the (fast) guys as long as I can, and I usually end up in the jungle by myself just trying to survive."
What has been interesting to Cody is all the crazy things he's seen en route on the course. Besides car traffic (the course is open to vehicles), he's encountered dogs, bulldozers, taxi cabs and a mountain goat with horns. Cyclingnews watched a heard of cattle cross the road just minutes before he passed by near the Turrialba volcano on Friday.
And then there is the mud, which is particularly challenging for the southern California rider. "The mud is the real deal. If anybody wants to do a study on mountain biking and mud, this is the place. I carry around chain cleaner and every few miles, I do some scraping and clean it off and then lube it."
"This mud makes it feel like another planet. It's everywhere. It's caked to your bike and to your shoes. It's in your mouth and ears. The amount of mud and the kind of mud has been the biggest shock."
While the heat has not...
American is enjoying her second attempt
In stage 3 of La Ruta de los Conquistadores mountain bike race, there was a new face among the top three women. Jane Rynbrandt (Carmichael Training Systems) spent much of the stage at times with eventual second place finisher Louise Kobin (Global Biorythm Events) and also eventual third place finisher Rebecca Rusch (Specialized).
"I liked riding on today's terrain. It was three hours of climbing and an hour or so of descending. It was like Colorado with all the climbing. I felt at home, minus the mud."
Rynbrandt is from Colorado Springs and is racing her second La Ruta. She didn't feel great at the start, but her legs came around half-way up the day's climb up the volcanoes. That's where she was with Kobin, who eventually got away from her.
"This year is going better," she said. "Last year I was fifth, but there was more space between the others ahead and me. I feel stronger this year and know what to expect. I have a better handle on the steep climbs."
After riding in third for a while, Rusch passed her and bumped her back to fourth place. "Rebecca caught me halfway down the descent. She's a phenomenal descender and I was running low on energy and couldn't hang on."
"Tomorrow's stage was the hardest day for me last year. I have a fear of heights. I want to make it over the railroad bridges tomorrow and find some groups to ride with on the flats." The last stage, number four, take riders over La Ruta's famous railroad trestle bridges, which are high up over raging rivers and are missing some of the ties.
According to Rynbrandt, knowing what is coming is both good and bad. "I don't know if it's better because you know what's coming and you know how hard it is, but the experience does give you valuable...
First-ever mountain bike stage race couldn't have gone better
Todd Wells (Specialized) won La Ruta de los Conquistadores on Saturday afternoon. It was the US cross country national champion's first-ever mountain bike stage race despite years of elite-level World Cup racing and two Olympic appearances.
"Mountain bike stage racing is hard," said Wells. "For me, I seem to get more and more tired every day. Sometimes on the road, you can recover and get better whereas here I felt like I got slower and slower. I'm glad it ended after four days."
Wells was delighted with his victory. "It feels so good. A race like this is never over until it's over.and it's been a stressful couple of days since I got the jersey on the first day. It seemed like someone new stepped up each day. I was just lucky to get enough time on that first stage and be able to sit back and conserve."
After picking a race billed by organizers as the toughest in the world, Wells wasn't yet ready to commit to returning.
"I don't know (about doing more). These events are great because they are big and they get so much attention. When you finish a race like this, you feel such a sense of accomplishment - whether you're the guy winning or not. It's special.
On the final stage, Wells got to experience La Ruta's infamous railroad trestle bridges. To cross them, riders have to step from railroad tie to railroad tie. There is nothing in between so the views to the fast moving torrents of water below can un-nerve anyone with a fear of heights.
"I've never done anything like that before. They were a little scary. Some (of the sections) are long. It gets hot and you're tired. You don't want to make a mistake. You're not likely to fall off, but it'd be easy to slip between the ties and hurt your leg or foot...
New Zealand cross country star wins several honors
Seventeen-year-old cross country mountain bike sensation Anton Cooper of North Canterbury, New Zealand, signed a multi-year management deal with 23 Degrees Sports this week.
Cooper made headlines earlier this year when, in his first race ever in Europe at round 6 of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the Czech Republic, he won the junior men's cross country race by more than 1:40. He soon backed that up at round 7 in Italy with a win by just over a minute, despite suffering some mechanical issues throughout the race.
Understandably the conquering Kiwi, who his mates call "Coops", was turning some heads in Europe and many were asking where he'd been hiding. He'd actually been busy in New Zealand accruing national and continental titles for the past couple of years, and has been enjoying his racing ever since his father Paul introduced him to the sport when he was 11 years old.
At the world championships in Switzerland this year, an early race incident put him off his bike and off the back and into about 20th position. After entering the singletrack in 16th position, he fought his way back up through the field on the demanding, technical track. Ultimately he sprinted for second and took home the silver medal, the first New Zealand rider in the 22-year history of the mountain bike world championships to ever win a medal in this category.
"2011 was such an amazing experience for me, to be able to finally race with the best juniors on the planet and measure myself against them, and I was so proud to climb on that top step in the Czech Republic," said Cooper.
"To race internationally has been my dream and despite the difficult race at the Worlds, it's...
Shifting improved by mimicking eventual winner Wells
Rom Akerson (Specialized) finished second at La Ruta de los Conquistadores this weekend in Costa Rica. It was his best-ever finish in the race of a total 10 times participating. Only Todd Wells (Specialized) beat the 27-year-old Costa Rican, who has spent several years racing adventure races, triathlon and on the road.
Delighted with his race, Akerson said he learned a lot from racing Wells, a regular top 15 finisher at World Cup cross country races.
"During all the mountain stages, I spent time on his wheel, and I watched his gears," said Akerson. "He's taller than I am, and I'm taller than all the Costa Ricans. I've only raced against Costa Ricans and they use different gears. They use way bigger gears and pedal slower."
"After the first day, I'd just sit on him and whenever he'd drop a gear, I'd drop a gear and whenever he'd go up a gear, I'd go up a gear. I was noticing that it was working well for me. The first few minutes, it felt weird and then I started feeling good. His rhythm was good. I was using his gear or maybe he was using my gear."
Wells effectively won the race by gaining a huge margin of over 10 minutes on the first stage. From then on, he defended his yellow jersey. But Akerson never gave up - he clearly put forth his best to challenge Wells each day.
"It's the first time I ever raced against such a high-class athlete," he said. "I tried the second day and got closer. On day 3, I went at it 100 percent and when I was climbing, I bonked. I think I went too hard, but I'm stoked because I didn't save anything on any of the days."
On the final day, the two teamed up to chase eventual stage winner Moises Hernandez. Wells had agreed to work with Rom and if they could catch Hernandez, they'd share a stage and overall wins.
"When we hit the flats, I talked to Todd a bit and he was cool. We agreed to go at...