After a day of brutally steep climbing during stage two on Thursday, racers at the La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica will head into volcanic territory for the penultimate stage on Friday. They'll cover 85km from Terramall to Turrialba.
"These are the most stupidly steep climbs I've ever done in my life," said current race leader Ben Sonntag (Cannondale) of Thursday's stage. "But I knew that from last year. People had told me before I came the first time, but I think you have to see it and ride it before you believe it." The German lives and trains in Durango, Colorado.
"I've never gone up anything that steep in my life," said Sam Schultz (Subaru-Trek) in his first major mountain bike stage race. "The only way we could make it up was by riding up some crazy, crosshatched pavement. I can't even describe it. It was gnarly."
"Now I understand why everyone before the race said I'd want a triple chainring," said Schultz, who was riding a 2 x 10 drivetrain with a 26 x 36 as his lowest gear. "I was reaching for my shifter a bunch of times, and it wasn't going any further."
Spanish racer Ismael Ventura reported that his bike computer read a 30 percent gradient for two straight kilometres during stage two. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing." Many racers had to walk portions of the uphills.
Sonntag's teammate Alex Grant, who is in second overall after two stages, noted that the third day of last year's race provided a "shake-up". "A lot can happen tomorrow," he said.
"You climb for two hours. The upper part is tons of road, then there is a super long downhill, really rough. A lot of guys had issues with that downhill last year. I went over the top fo the climb (up the Irazu volcano) in eighth last year, but moved up to second or third on the downhill."
En route, riders will have to follow concrete tyre tracks on a steep part. "You're totally on the rivet and you have to try not to fall off the tyre track. That was hard," remembered Grant. "Wherever you get in there, you can't pass."