Monique "Pua" Mata's La Ruta de los Conquistadores record is perfect. In her first attempt at the Costa Rican mountain bike stage race, she won all three stages and the overall women's race title.
"It's so awesome to win. I heard people out there screaming my name. It's a phenomenal race," said Mata. "I think everyone should come and challenge themselves. It's such a unique experience."
Mata was challenged herself on the final day by the infamous railroad trestle bridges. They are high up over a wide and fast river and some of the railroad ties are missing. It's especially tricky for those scared of heights as riders can see down to the moving water far below the ties.
"I was in survival mode. The last day was the hardest day, but I got through it. Those bridges are scary!" said Mata after the finish. "I can pedal my bike, but I can't walk across bridges. I was holding everyone up and I felt bad. I said I was sorry."
"I didn't know what to expect coming to the bridges. The first bridge ... everyone told me what it would be like, and I was trying to focus on each trestle and not look beyond that. A couple had the metal steps. A few times I could feel my shoes slipping, but I survived."
The railroad ties were especially treacherous given the rain throughout most of the stage.
"I don't know what I was expecting with the bridges, but it was hard, and I almost wanted to cry the first one. The first one was the longest and most scary... there was no warm-up. By the last one, I was walking like a pro."
With the final stage shorter than usual, Mata had to battled it out with several hundred other riders to get a good position going into the bridges, which came not long after the start in this year's edition of the race. "The start was chaos. The turns, the rain, just hearing brakes and tires skidding. there were a lot of turns. The front group got away and eventually I just kept pedalling."
Mata enjoyed the race and is now looking forward to her off-season. When asked if she'd return to La Ruta, she said, "I think I need to come back when it's four days to get the whole thing right." In other recent years, the race has been done over four days instead of three.