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Haywood tells tales from a first La Ruta

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America's Susan Haywood (Trek / VW)

America's Susan Haywood (Trek / VW) (Image credit: Luis A. Rueda Fonseca)
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Haywood was initial worried when rival Louise Kobin caught her,

Haywood was initial worried when rival Louise Kobin caught her, (Image credit: Tour of Japan)

By Sue George

Sue Haywood (Trek / VW) came home with a win after competing in her first La Ruta de los Conquistadores. She conquered challenging conditions and defeated three-time women's winner Louise Kobin over four days and 360km. She talked about her first-time experience in Costa Rica's legendary mountain bike stage race.

Haywood (Trek / VW) and Federico "Lico" Ramirez (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS) were crowned champions at the end of the 15th edition of La Ruta which featured plenty of climbing, mud, and railroad bridges to keep things interesting. While it was Ramirez's fourth win, Haywood was a La Ruta newbie. Both winners claimed victory in three of the four total stages.

Haywood decided to do La Ruta after being part of the winning women's team at the TransRockies in August. "[La Ruta] is one of those races that has been on the radar because they say it's the hardest mountain bike race in the world and it's in a warm place in November."

"It's not just a mountain bike race. It is the hardest mountain bike adventure race. To me, it's not just the mountain biking that makes it difficult. There is [almost] no singletrack, and for me, singletrack and mountain biking go hand in hand. But it's certainly a difficult race especially when it's your first time you don't know what's coming up."

"Being in a Latin American country means things are more chaotic and a little bit different. People are really relaxed in general. They know everything isn't going to be like clockwork. There is a feeling of camaraderie because the race is so difficult. People have so much respect for each other that they're doing the race."

The bus transfers and 5:30 am starts only add the culture shock in making the race tough for foreigners.

Haywood battled with Louise Kobin (Sho Air-Rock and Road) as her main competition for the race. Kobin has done the race five times and won three times. Her other two attempts have ended in second places.

The two women rode near each other throughout the race, but not with each other. "Since there are 550 people racing, we often stayed close and we couldn't trust what people are saying [about who was where] – things get lost in translation."

"We often rode close but not together except for the last day. For a lot of the race, we were only separated by a few minutes." Then the Trek / VW racer would pull away near the end - at least for the first three stages. Haywood said she spent much of the race riding with the same batch of racers. "There was a group of maybe eight or so people I'd ride with at different times - a lot of the masters guys."

In fact, Haywood rode the first two stages of the race on a borrowed bike, thanks to a local who worked at a nearby Trek dealer. Her bike didn't make it down with her on the airplane. "I was lucky to be able to race. I got my bike for the third and fourth days. The borrowed bike was one size smaller than I normally ride, so I was worried about not being used to it, but everything worked out fine.

The amount and consistency of the mud left an impression on Haywood. "Being from the East Coast and West Virginia, I have seen bits of mud like that, but I guess we just don't have as much clay. It was really slippery clay. It was definitely extreme mud."

"They said some things were better and some were worse as far as the mud went this year. The mud wasn't as soul-crushing as I thought it would be. But it did make the downhills so hard. Sometimes my wheels would stop turning."

To read the complete feature, click here.

Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews.  She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.