La Ruta de los Conquistadores celebrates 20 years

Mountain bike stage races have come and gone, but one that has endured is La Ruta de los Conquistadores in Costa Rica. The race will celebrate its 20th edition on November 1-3, 2012.

The race is notoriously difficult with its jungle-like setting, often hot temperatures, extreme amounts of climbing and lengthy stages, but race founder and organizer Roman Urbina promised that this year's event will be more accessible to more racers.

"It'll be a much easier race to ride. It'll be the three-day format," said Urbina to Cyclingnews.

In recent years, the race has stretched as long as four days. "The second day is gone. Personally, it's my favorite day, but it's gone," said Urbina, who is looking to return the race to its original three-day plan. Cutting the second day will also take out a lot of climbing. The race traverses the country from the west coast at Jaco Beach to the east coast at La Playa Bonita.

Another big change is the shortening of the final day's riding and the addition of an optional morning white water rafting segment. The extracurricular activity will not count toward the GC.

"We are going to add a rafting section to the last day. All of the mountains of the last day are gone, and it will be decided on a flat course the last day," said Urbina.

"Twenty years ago, I started La Ruta as an expedition following the path of the Conquistadores. They travelled by boats a lot because it was easier than going up and over the mountains. It's a world class river, one of the best. I used to be a raft guide."

Don't expect the rafting to be a long term addition to La Ruta. "I don't know if we'll ever have the rafting again because it's logistically complicated. We wanted to give back a little more to people participating. We want them to relax. The racers will get into Turrialba on Friday afternoon. Bikes will be serviced, washed and put into trucks. The next morning, they will be taken to where the rafting segment ends. They will be put into racks according to race number."

It's hard to imagine some of the top mountain bike pros doing a morning of rafting on the final day, and Urbina realizes those racers may wish to conserve their energy for the final dash through the banana plantations, especially if the overall standings are still close at that point. Hence, the rafting segment is optional.

"Whoever wants to sleep in can do so, and they can just show up the race start on the final day."

Several top racers are already confirmed for La Ruta, including defending champion and Olympian Todd Wells (Specialized), Costa Rican star and previous winner Federico "Lico" Ramirez and Portugal's Louis Leao Pinto. Always a strong contender, Pinto is being coached by Roberto Heras and has won other races like the Brasil Ride. 2010 runner-up Alex Grant (Cannondale), four-time Leadville champion Rebecca Rusch (Specialized) and endurance pro Sonya Looney (Topeak Ergon) are also planning to attend.

Wells and Adriana Rojas won the 2011 edition of the race.

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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.