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Men's leader Paolo Montoya at the front
Mata hopes to defend title in Costa Rica
Several past champions are back in Costa Rica to contend for the win at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, which started this morning. Among them are Todd Wells (Specialized Racing) Paolo Montoya (Frijoles Los Tierniticos-Bicicletas Focus Team) and Pua Mata (Sho-Air/Cannondale).
Costa Rican Montoya is the defending champion from 2012. "I feel very confident about my training. Physically I feel great, and I have improved my overall training time. I feel stronger and more capable to conquer the climbing. Right now I'm focused and serene."
2011 La Ruta winner Wells of the United States is more confident going into this year's edition since it will be his third time at the race. He said knows each stage almost by heart.
"The hardest part is crossing the train track bridges in the third day. I don't like it at all, and last year it was raining really hard, it was really horrible. If I could take another route I would, even if it was longer," said Wells.
Aside from Montoya, Costa Rica will be represented by Dennis Porras, Federico Ramirez, Deiber Esquivel, Jose Montoya, Moises Hernandez, Andrey Fonseca and Marconi Duran. American Alex Grant, who has finished second three times in past editions, and German Markus Bauer are two other favorites to watch.
In the women's race, Mata is hoping to defend her title from 2012. "This year, I'm here to enjoy it all - the people and every moment, I will race from my heart, the fastest and strongest I can, always caring for my safety to race intelligently," said Mata.
She will battle Costa Rican women Nancy Amores, Natalia Navarro and Adriana Rojas as well as international racers Jame Ryndbrant, Michelle Zimmerman and Cheryl Sorson. The latter is the women's winner of the National Ultra Endurance (NUE) Series.
437 mountain bikers took to the start of La Ruta this morning. They face 307km of racing in the 21st edition of the popular stage race.
The athletes will cross Costa Rica from coast to coast, with the first stage starting off in Jaco and ending at El Rodeo in the capital of San Jose. The second day will begin at Terramall in San Jose and end at CATIE in Turrialba, and the third day will begin as well. The third day ends at the Caribbean coast, in Playa Bonita, Limon.
This year, Friday's second stage will have a new section so that the mountain bikers will climb the Irazu Volcano on gravel roads and not on asphalt as it used to be.
"The change was made so that the route will have more trails, thus making it more difficult. Those four kilometers are uphill, in grassy terrain, which will definitely have an impact on every athlete and may even define the winner of the stage," said Roman Urbina, organizer of La Ruta.
2013 La Ruta de los Conquistadores
Thursday, October 24: Stage 1 - Jacó-El Rodeo, 100km
Friday, October 25: Stage 2 - Terramall-CATIE Turrialba, 86km
Saturday, October 26: Stage 3 - CATIE Turrialba-Playa Bonita, 121km