Seven years ago, in 2004, Manny Prado showed up to La Ruta de los Conquistadors as a complete newbie. In 2009, he won the event, but this year, he's taking a different approach.
"The first year I remember looking at some ad in a magazine. I was living in California full time," said Prado to Cyclingnews. "La Ruta has always had a prestige about it. I had just started mountain biking for fun, and I said I wanted to go and do it. I had no training, no racing, no experience whatseover other than riding a BMX bike for 10 years."
Prado showed up with unshaven legs and a good attitude. "It sounded cool and was in my homeland, so it was an excuse to come visit my family and say I participated in the toughest mountain bike race ever."
The funny thing was that thanks to a quirk in assigning number plates by age and registration order, Prado was given the #1 plate in his first La Ruta outing. "I was happy to see that number plate, but I finished 51st," he said. "That plate was too big for my level. But I told myself at the finish in Puerto Limon that I wanted to be on the podium someday and earn that number plate."
2009 turned out to be the year for that. "I put everything into it that year and did everything I could do - good rest, proper training, not going out, not walking around. I put in the necessary saddle time to come do the race with no endurance or speed issues and luck was on my side, too, so I came out on top."
After taking 2008 and 2009 too seriously, Prado is taking a more wholistic approach to racing and life.
"I took it way too seriously and I barely remember any of the good experiences because I was so focused on wanting to be just that - serious."
"This year, I've done things differently. I'm thinking about the future more. I'm back in Costa Rica and going to school. I'm doing some work on the side to subsidize my income. I'm taking care of my family.
"With that being said, my fitness is not as good as it was, but I'm glad to be able to say I was able to have my race face on in 2009 and come out and win it. Now I can just come out and have fun. I'm relaxed and I don't have the pressure I had last year."