Sonntag and Grant have high hopes for La Ruta defense

Ben Sonntag and Alex Grant brought Cannondale a one-two finish at the 2010 La Ruta de los Conquistadores. Both riders are back again at the 2011 edition of the race, which will kick off on Wednesday morning.

"I'm excited to get going, even if it is a 6:00 am start," said Sonntag to Cyclingnews on Tuesday evening.

"It will be a tough year, like every year," said the German, who is competing for his third time. "Having Todd (Wells), Federico (Ramirez) and Milton (Ramos) here, it will be a hard race. Plus there may be someone we don't know about yet."

Sonntag had a rough first year, but each subsequent edition has gone better and better.

"In my first year, I think I was the guy with the most mechanicals, including obscure ones," he said. "I tore off a derailleur and even ripped a brake cable. This year I'm using the exact same bike setup as the second year. It worked last year, so why shouldn't it work this year?"

Grant is also using the same bike set-up as in 2010, which he detailed a few days ago on Cyclingnews. He said experience will pay off for both of them. Grant, too, is in his third year of racing La Ruta.

"Knowing what to expect is a big deal like how it will affect your body and what is coming up on the stage," said Grant. "The first year, I kept thinking, 'Where is the finish?' and people would say 'only 5km more', but they were messing with us. Knowing how long each day will be helps us manage food and effort."

With the race happening two weeks earlier on the calendar, wetter and muddier conditions are expected.

"It's been really wet and we're wondering how muddy it will be. We'll have 4km less of mud this year on stage 1," said Grant. "It's kind of an unknown in the jungle. The first year, we were stepping in mud up to our knees, but last year wasn't that bad. Every year there is something different."

Sonntag and Grant will again partner so that one of them can bring home the jersey. "For us, it will be important to look at each other, not try anything stupid and hopefully we can have a good race and work together," said Sonntag.

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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.