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Lack of sleep adds to challenge

Racing with Frederico in my head.

Today's stage included approximately 10,000ft of climbing up to Irazu Volcano, followed by around 11,000ft of descending into the town of Turrialba. The course was not as varied as the other stages, but in some ways, it was easier to wrap my head around one massive climb followed by one huge descent. Instead of wondering where I was in the stage, or what was ahead, at least today's stage was really mentally straightforward.

Seriously, I climbed for about three hours up to nearly 10,000ft. The majority of the climbing was on good gravel road and pavement. It was just a matter of putting your head down and spinning away. I was again caught in no man's land with Angela (Parra) and Louise (Kobin) up the road, so I was faced with a brisk headwind, a bit of rain and temperatures down into the 50s. I was grateful for the cool temps, while many of the Costa Ricans were putting on jackets and layers.

I really enjoyed the day's climb because it took us way above the clouds and the views of Irazu and Turrialba Volcanos were spectacular. I was reminding myself to look around today while I was climbing and working on my fitness for next season. I felt good again today, but still could not match the pace up front.

I did have some good motivation from my friend Frederico, who is the lead moto driver and long time La Ruta participant. He challenged me to try to get in under five and a half hours today and said that would be a really good time. So, I was racing against that time today and pushing to beat his challenge. It helped a ton and I finished in 5:06! I'm happy with how this race is unfolding for me and when comparing the times and gaps from 2006, I have made a vast improvement in the past fouryears. Barring major drama tomorrow, the women's podium seems to be fairly set.

There could have easily been an upset today because the descent off the volcano was gnarly. It's called a "road", but I honestly cannot see how any sort of vehicle would travel over it. There were long, long sections of baby heads where I felt like I was in a pinball game.

Other sections were imbedded rocks with slick mud covering them. The "easiest" part of the descent was the super loose high speed gravel, but even those sections had huge consequence because of the speed. The last time I was here, the race leader, Jeremiah Bishop, crashed on this descent and broke his jaw. I think part of what makes it so hard is that it's around 30km of descending after three days of racing and a monster climb. I just want to point it straight and go to the finish, but I was so fatigued that I could not ride it the way I normally would.

I did get one flat tire, but it was a quick change. The remaining pavement into town had my odometer clicking at 67km/hr at one point. It felt great to get out of the technical descending, onto pavement and into a tuck. In those moments, I was making sure to not think about what would happen if a Costa Rican dog ran out in front of me. I almost squished one today, but he made it to the other side just in time.

The only black mark on the race for me today is the drama that has been created by rule enforcements. The race organization was faced with a difficult situation and disqualified one rider before the start of today's stage. The rider was caught taking outside assistance, which is clearly against the race rules. There are rumors, hearsay and some hard facts all flying around, regarding these riders and others who may or may not have been involved on various stages.

I have not personally seen any infractions myself, so I can't really make a statement about the situation. I will say, again, that I am glad to see the race organization cracking down and trying to enforce a fair race for everyone. I'm sure it's difficult to police everyone with hundreds of riders and hundreds of kilometers of race course, but I appreciate their efforts. There will be plenty of drama and discussion about all of this, but I feel it's a step in the right direction.

Now for the final stage and our arrival to the Carribean in Limon. This last stage is no cake walk either. It's still 120km. The first half of the stage is Costa Rican-style climbing. The second half features the famous railroad track riding and sketchy bridge crossings, followed by flat, hot, sandy road riding.

The worst part of this whole week has been the severe lack of sleep! Tomorrow's stage is a "late" start at 7:00 am. Breakfast is a 4:30 am, so I'm off to bed.

Thanks for reading.

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Rebecca Rusch first raced La Ruta de los Conquistadores in 2006.  She's back for her second attempt at the race.

The three-time 24-hour solo world champion has raced several endurance events this season including the Trans-Sylvania, Trans Andes, Tour de la Patagonia, Red Centre Enduro and the Leadville 100, which she won while also setting a women's course record.

The 42-year-old Rusch lives in Ketchum, Idaho.

Follow her daily race blog here.