By Rob Jones
The 2008 edition of La Ruta de los Conquistadores became a one-man show after a dominating performance by defending champion Federico "Lico" Ramirez (BCR-Pizza Hut) on the opening stage Wednesday. Ramirez crushed the nearest rider, archrival Paolo Montoya (Economy Rent A Car), by over 10 minutes. The anticipated battle with three-time Vuelta a España winner Roberto Heras (Giant) did not materialize, as the Spanish rider faltered on the climbs, finishing over 25 minutes behind in fifth place.
"I didn't know about all the hills," said Heras. "There were so many uphills and downhills. But now that I have experienced it, I feel more positive for the next stages."
Adriana Rojas Cubero finished as the top woman, two hours and 20 minutes behind Ramirez.
After an 18 kilometre paved run north along the coast from Jaco, the race turned inland for the first climb - a 10-plus kilometre gravel slog that quickly separated out the contenders. Over the top, nine riders headed into the Carara National Park: Ramirez, Montoya, Heras, Thomas Dietsch (Gewiss-Bianchi), Enrique Artavia (Super Pro-Economy), Manny Prado (Sho-Air-Rock N' Road) and Dennis Porras (Super Pro-Economy), Marvin Campos (BCR-Pizza Hut) and Alexander Sanchez (BCR-Pizza Hut).
Heavy mud, treacherous descents and hike-a-bike sections followed leaving just six riders in the lead group. Dietsch stopped at the checkpoint to deal with a slow leak, and stock up on water and food while the others (who had team support) continued on.
Shortly after, racers faced an endless series of steep gravel climbs, and Montoya attacked, with only Ramirez able to respond. The two quickly opened a gap on Heras, Porras and Artavia, none of whom were capable of chasing.
Dietsch, however, was and made an impressive effort to pass the other chasers and bridge up to Ramirez and Montoya before the third checkpoint. The trio steadily pulled away.
The leaders had moved onto the main paved climb at the front, and Ramirez launched a devastating attack, which neither Montoya nor Dietsch were capable of answering. Montoya dropped Dietsch to grab second, which he held to the finish. Artavia, Prado and Heras followed at the finish as Dietsch ended up limping home in sixth place, pale and shaky after missing support at the final checkpoint.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews' for full coverage of La Ruta de los Conquistadores.