This year's La Ruta de los Conquistadores may be shorter, but I am pretty sure we are cramming almost the same amount of suffering in to less time. Well not quite I guess, the old stage 2 was pretty brutal.
In my few years of experience with mountain bike stage races, it seems like the second day can be one of the hardest. On day 1, everyone is fresh and just goes out and pins it, leaving us all shattered for stage 2. By the third or fourth day, you can start to get a rhythm going and get in to a groove. It's amazing what the body can adapt to in s short amount of time.
That said, I was hoping for decent legs today and was aiming to give it my best effort and defend my third spot overall. This year's stage two was the Irazu and Turrialba volcano stage, which has always been stage 3 in my short tenure here. It pretty much goes straight up for almost two hours, then traverses for a while before descending seven or eight thousand feel in a very short distance.
As soon as we started climbing, it was clear that the Costa Ricans had an agenda today, with Dennis Porras going up the road and a small group containing Lico Ramirez and a couple other guys forming close behind. I was with Todd Wells and GC leader Paolo Montoya, before I decided to take a chance and bridge up to the group ahead. I caught up to them, and so did Paolo eventually, as it seemed Todd was having a rough start to the day.
I stayed with the chase group for most of the first half of the climb before coming off on a slick hike-a-bike section. I chased hard for about 20-30 minutes before catching back up, it was clear that they weren't going to wait for me. Actually quite the opposite I am sure. It was a pretty cool feeling to climb up the volcano with those guys, I followed La Ruta online for a few years before first coming down to race, and Paolo and Lico were usually the top guys. It was a pleasure to ride with them for sure.
On the upper slopes of the climb, Lico attacked and took Enrique Atavia with him, leaving Montoya, Deiber Esquivel and myself together. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was moving in to second overall, as well as coming very close to being passed in the GC by a flying Porras.
After a foggy and expectedly rough descent, I got a time split to Porras and realized that it was going to come down to seconds between us. I put my head down and powered along towards the finish. Right when I thought the stage was over, the course took a "surprise" turn and sent us on a 6km trek through some hot coffee fields on some rocky dirt roads. There was a short, nasty climb thrown in just for good measure. I was motoring pretty well on the Flash 29 and maybe the additional kilometers were a good thing as I made some time back and held on to second overall! It's tight though, and Porras is only 22 seconds back.
I'll have my hands full tomorrow with a 55km flat stage to the beach, including some of the railroad tracks. With first place pretty far gone (13 minutes) I have my sights set on holding second, though it will be touch against a local rider with a strong team behind him. It will be a good race that's for sure.
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Alex Grant, 31, is one of America's top endurance mountain bike racers. Sponsored by Cannondale Factory Racing in 2012, Grant juggles racing as a pro with managing an outdoor gear consignment business called Gear Rush, which he co-owns with fellow Utah cyclist and racer Bart Gillepsie. This season, look out for Grant on the podiums at major endurance and stage races. For variety, you may also see him on on the start line of some super Ds, cross countries and short tracks.
In 2011, Grant finished third at the Leadville 100 and eighth at the US cross country national championships while also logging top 10s at the super D and marathon nationals. He finished fifth in the Downieville Classic All Mountain Overall and seventh at La Ruta de los Conquistadores. For the third year in a row, he won the Park City Point 2 Point.
In 2010, Grant made headlines with his second place finish at La Ruta de los Conquistadores, the Breck Epic and the Trans-Sylvania Epic.
When not on his mountain bike, Grant enjoys backcountry skiing, snowboarding and hiking.
Grant is from Richmond, Vermont, and he presently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Follow his 2012 season in this blog on Cyclingnews.
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