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The beauty and brutality of La Ruta

Pura Vida

That's the national motto or slogan of Costa Rica. While it translates literally to "pure life," they use it so widely that it's come to have a timeless quality that transcends meaning. It's a greeting, a goodbye, and a response. Maybe it's overused, but I like it - it really is an expression of the Costa Rican culture and their outlook on life. It's a culture that places a great emphasis on family, friends, nature, and enjoying the fact that we are alive.

For that reason I have come to love visiting Costa Rica and look forward to going down to La Ruta de los Conquistadores each year, despite my knowledge of how brutally hard the race is. I know that regardless of how the race goes, I will be able to experience the culture and natural beauty of the country and hopefully take a little bit of that home with me when I return to the States. I can't speak for other countries but it seems like American culture is so focused on growth, doing more, doing it faster, and with less, that people's lives become a blur of time. It's refreshing to visit a small town in Costa Rica and see the simple life some people lead.

That said, the first item of business on the trip this year was the race. Ben Sonntag and I had great luck and great form down there in 2010, pulling off an upset one-two finish. We knew that it would be difficult to defend our positions from 2010, but we were ready for the challenge. La Ruta is a unique race that requires good form, good luck, and depends on a lot of external factors. One of those is the competition, and it was top notch this year.

Sometimes you are the hammer and sometimes you are the nail. This year we were the nail. One hour in to stage, 1 Ben crashed in Carara National Park and broke his handlebar, having to run many kilometers to the next checkpoint. As for myself, I was giving it my all to stay with the lead group in the jungle hiking sections and began to notice cramps in my legs… after only two hours of racing. That was not encouraging, as I knew that I still had four hours to go. I had to back off the pace, but the cramps never went away, and I was almost completely locked up by the finish. Though, somehow, I found the energy to outsprint Federico Ramirez for fifth. I am not sure why I cramped up like I did, but I had barely recovered from them by stage 4.

By the time the race hit the beach in Limon after four days of racing, I finished seventh overall and Ben was eighth. Congrats to Todd Wells who took an impressive win in his first ever La Ruta and became the first American to win the race. Well done.

Also thanks to Cannondale for the great support, and to Javier and Daniel for all the help at the race this year and last. We couldn't have done it without you guys!

Check out the videos below that were made by Cannondale's Matt Ohran who followed the race on a moto to film.

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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.