By Rob Jones in Costa Rica
Federico "Lico" Ramirez (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS) became the first four-time champion of the La Ruta de los Conquistadores, while first-time attendee Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) took the women's title. The 15th edition of the 360km, four day race ended Saturday on the Caribbean Sea in Costa Rica after traversing the country from its start on the Pacific Ocean on the west side of the country.
Both winners had claimed the first three stages as victories, but neither made it a sweep on the final day. Thomas Dietsch (Gewiss-Bianchi) took the men's stage four win and Louise Kobin (Sho Air-Rock and Road) the women's. Ramirez finished ahead of Paolo Montoya (Macosta-Lee Cougan) and Dietsch, and Haywood ahead of Kobin and Maria Carvajal Brenes (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS) in the general classification.
"This was another hard stage, and I struggled at the end," commented Haywood after stage four. "All I could do was follow Louise."
The final stage may have looked easy on paper, but among several challenges of the day, were a pre-race soaking by rain and 35km of riding railway ties, a bone-jarring effort that broke up any attempt at a rhythm. Finally, a waist-deep swamp had some of the smaller riders all but swimming with their bikes.
"This was another hard stage," said Dietsch, "just as hard as the others. The trestle bridge was difficult to do; you were watching where you put your foot all the time, and the railway [ties] were very rough and hard on the body."
"I'm very pleased to win; I've entered five times and won four of them," said Ramirez. "This one maybe means the most, because the level of competition keeps getting better and higher. Also, for the first time we crossed the whole country with no gaps, so I feel that I am really the champion now."
This year's edition was made harder by the weather, too. Race Director Luis Diego Viquez said that the rain definitely made it more difficult for the organization as well as the riders. "We had lots of problems with the weather; unlike last year, which was really good. It made everything harder for the logistics, for marking the course, for getting our people in place. The rain makes us work double." The race will stick with its four-day format for 2008.
While there's no word yet on whether Haywood will return next year, but Ramirez promised another attempt. "I will be back for sure, for five," he added.