Riders gear up for La Ruta

The La Ruta de los Conquistadores 15th Anniversary event begins today at the warm beach town of Jacó, a surf and nightlife paradise in Costa Rica's Pacific coast. During a press conference held yesterday afternoon, the organizers officially introduced the race to local and international media, while both local and foreign professional riders answered questions from the press about what they think of this year's special event.

"I think this is a hard race," said France's Thomas Dietsch (Bianchi). "I've spoke to several European riders that have came in the past and they all told me this is a great experience, but is also a great challenge.

"I've been training hard but this is really different of what I'm used to do in Europe," he added. "Let's see how I end tomorrow's stage and then I'll be able to tell you if I can win or not!"

Dietsch is probably the favourite to take out this year's edition, being the current XCM World's ranking leader and having also won the 2007 World Cup. Another racer that was present at the meeting was Canadian Andreas Hestler (Rockymountain), who is back in La Ruta after his seventh place last year.

"Hydration is the key, for sure," explained Hestler. "I will drink lots of Cristal water and Gatorade, and then Imperial (local beer) at night, with beer nuts to replace salt...

"It is difficult in Canada to train hard this time of year [but] this is my second year, so the preparation is easier because you have more knowledge of what to expect," he added. "But 15,000 feet of climbing in the first day...it's the most I've ever done, and it is brutally hard."

Among the women contenders, there are two that stand out from the rest. Louise Kobin (Sho Air) and Susan Haywood (Trek Volkswagen) will be fighting each other to win this year's trophy. Haywood's bicycle didn't make it to the airport in San José last night so the Trek dealer in Costa Rica, Motos Pazos, took care of the situation and put her on an 'Elite' frame for the first day.

"That's the beauty of this family, you have friends everywhere ready to help out when you need," said Haywood. "I know the race conditions, the terrain and the rivals are the main challenges, I don't see how riding an 'unknown' bike can be the worst thing."

"My bike is still...to be decided at this point," she added. "I normally ride a pretty stock Trek, with no special equipment or setup, but I will miss my saddle. It's great to have Trek family all over the world, and they will be helping out as much as they can. But this (missing bike) is a small obstacle for this race, compared to the mental challenge. I've been hearing from everyone how hard it is, so I will just pace myself and do the best I can."

This year's La Ruta will have a total field of 517 riders, most of them foreigners coming from 28 different countries. The first day will start this morning at an early 5:10 AM, in front of the Best Western Jacó Beach Hotel.

For a start list and other preview information, click here.

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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.