Last year's La Ruta de los Conquistadores overall runner-up Rom Akerson was disqualified after Costa Rican Cycling Federation officials ruled that he had accepted assistance from outside the race's designated areas during stage 1 on Thursday. Racers are allowed to accept assistance only in the feeds zones and within 500m before and after.
La Ruta promoter Roman Urbina said that he regretted that the officials had to make the disqualification, but that the race had to be fair for all the top riders. He noted that the race is regulated by the Costa Rican Cycling Federation (Federación Costarricense de Ciclistmo, FECOCI).
The federation's officials and judges were presiding at the race. In an official statement after the race, organizers said, "Policies, procedures and penalties are regulated and enforced by the FECOCI through its representing judges in the event. La Ruta must respect these decisions."
"They told him not to do it and he kept doing it. It's not like he wasn't warned," said Urbina to a group of reporters immediately after the finish. "Then he kept doing it. I hate to disqualify him. He asked me if I could just keep him in, and I said, 'I love you as a person and you're a great athlete, but what about the rest of the field?' They will be on my butt if I let you go."
"It's the same rule as recent years. Rom is a great guy, and I love his family. Friendship is one thing and another is being fair. It's not fair for the others."
Urbina noted that other top riders were complying with the ban against outside assistance. "[Stage winner Paolo] Montoya came in, and he looked almost dead. I saw Paolo out there and people were offering him ice cold water and he was saying 'no'. They were all following the rules, and it should be the same for all the top guys."
Although Akerson was not available at the race finish for immediate comment after the disqualification, he posted a statement in response on Facebook afterward. "I want to clarify how I was disqualified because many call me to ask what happened?"
Akerson said that an official saw him on course with a white water bottle in a cage and then later with a different colored (gray) water bottle on his bike at the finish. Akerson explained that he had been carrying extra bottles in his jersey pockets, which were later transferred to his on-the-bike water bottle cages.
"I, my family and my dad have ridden for more than 13 years in La Ruta de los Conquistadores and simply I can not believe what happened to me today!. This is very unfair. None of this sticks to due process or to national or international regulations... this is just ridiculous."
"[Stage 1 winner] Paolo [Montoya], [stage 1 runner-up] Todd [Wells] or any athlete who competes against me knows that I do not have to cheat to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them." He concluded by saying that the La Ruta race did not follow due process and questioned whether professionals would want to continue doing such a race.
Third place finisher Alex Grant commented on Akerson's disqualification immediately after the race. "It's too bad about Rom, but if he did it and someone saw him, that's the rule. That's part of the race. You have to follow the rules. There are plenty of times out there when I was out of water. If I'd had someone hand me a bottle, that would have made a difference. This year was the hottest year so far. I looked at my SRM on one of the climbs and it was 35 degrees Celsius. That's hot."
It's not the first time the issue of illegal outside assistance has come up at La Ruta. Riders, especially locals, are frequently offered assistance from friends, family and fans as they pass en route. While amateurs are allowed to accept assistance for the notoriously difficult race, the elite racers face stricter rules. In stage 3 in the 2010 edition of La Ruta, several riders were reported to be cheating by receiving outside assistance, and a top rider was ultimately disqualified: Luis Meijia of Colombia. He was allowed to continue racing after disqualification, but his results were not counted in the GC.
Urbina said Rom has the same option to continue outside of the GC, but that he would not do so.