Victory at La Ruta de los Conquistadores might take a little while to sink in for 30-year-old Ben Sonntag of the Cannondale Factory Team.
"I won La Ruta and that is absolutely crazy," said the mountain biker. "It feels unreal to me, and I haven't realized what this victory means yet." Maybe that's because it wasn't just his first La Ruta win, but his very first mountain bike stage race win.
"I think I picked a good one to win," he said.
Sonntag, a German who lives in Durango, Colorado, added his name to those of other prestigious foreigners who have won including Leonardo Paez and Thomas Frischknecht. The race is notoriously difficult for non-Costa Ricans to win.
"Now I can say I had a great season. I had been having a mediocre year, especially, the middle part of the summer when I wasn't going very well. Whenever I thought I was in shape, something came up. Maybe that's why I came here and did so well? I was fresher."
Sonntag assumed the overall lead with a win in the first stage. He managed to defend it until the end, giving up some time the next two days, but not too much. He felt worst on the third day, but thanks to help from his ever-present teammate Alex Grant, he minimized the loss of time to favorites like Costa Rican Federico Ramirez.
After every stage, no matter how tough, Sonntag was always smiling, his sunny disposition shining through and clearly enjoying himself in the mud and rain.
"Team tactics played a big role this week," said Sonntag. "Alex and I worked together every single day. We were one, two, and we couldn't ask for more."
Sonntag is only in his fifth year in the sport. "I guess my legs are finally coming around as a cyclist. It takes a few years." He comes from a cross country skiing background, but said that before he was a dedicated cyclist, he often rode his bike in the summer to train.
He is a two-time winter triathlon world champion - from 2003 and 2006. Winter triathlon includes running, biking and cross country skiing.