"I hadn't planned on coming back to this race this year," said Rusch to Cyclingnews. "A few weeks ago, some friends started asking me, and then the weather started turning cold at home in Idaho, so I came back for a few reasons."
"First, I want to improve my ranking and each year, I learn more at this race. This is the kind of race where experience pays off."
"Secondly, it's a winter boot camp for me with four really hard days of riding before we go into a winter of snow."
Rusch, who finished third last year, will face some tough competition from perpetual La Ruta star Louise Kobin, who has won five times previously.
"They don't call her La Ruta Lou for nothing. She has the course dialled and has raced here nine times. If you come to La Ruta, she's the one who sets the bar. Louise is one for me to watch. Every year I've been close to her, so if I can stay in contact with her, I'll be doing pretty well."
Rusch also called out Adriana Rojas, one of the best riders in Costa Rica, as likely competition. "In any race like this, there are always people you don't know," she said, leaving the door open.
Thinking of her strategy for this year, Rusch said keeping better focus would be important. "I need to race harder when I'm alone. Last year, I was alone for awhile on stage 2, and I was a bit lost but then found out at the end that I was only a few minutes behind Louise and (eventual winner) Angela (Parra). I wish I'd known that. I need to keep my head in the game and keep my focus. Every moment counts and it can come down to minutes or seconds."
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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.
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