Posted by Editor on 11/17/07
Ramirez and Haywood Take 15th Anniversary La Ruta Titles
Stage 3 Photos - Part 1 and Part 2.
The 15th edition of La Ruta ended today on the Gulf of Mexico, four days and 360 kilometres after riders set out from the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Federico 'Lico' Ramirez (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS) became the first four-time champion of the race, while first-time attendee Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) took the women's title. However, after each had won three consecutive stages, the overall winners were denied the opportunity for a clean sweep, when Thomas Dietsch (Gewiss-Bianchi) took the men's stage win and Louise Kobin (Sho Air-Rock and Road) the women's. There were no changes in the general classification, with Ramirez followed by Paolo Montoya (Macosta-Lee Cougan) and Dietsch, and Haywood ahead of Kobin and Maria Carvajal Brenes (BCR-Pizza Hut-Powerade-KHS)
On paper, the final stage profile makes it look the easiest, with a downhill run to the coast and then south along the shore to the resort of Playa Bonita in Limon. However, the looks are very deceiving.
"This was another hard stage, and I struggled at the end," commented Haywood. "All I could do was follow Louise."
The start in Aquiares sent the riders up the final five kilometres that they had descended the previous day - a switchback climb on gravel through the coffee plantations that give the town its purpose. To make matters worse, rain - at times a downpour - thoroughly soaked the riders before they had even started.
After the initial climb and immediate descent, there was a further series of short, steep climbs on gravel and pavement before riders finally hit a long paved downhill - a further 1720 vertical metres to add to the 10,000-plus they had already covered. The rain backed off for the latter part of the climb and final descent, with the sun even making an appearance. But it returned for the ride along the coast.
While the remaining 65 kilometres may have been flat, they were by no means easy. A long railway trestle bridge over the Reventazon River forced riders to gingerly step their way across while, literally, a raging flood of water roared 10 metres beneath them. To make matters worse, a train appeared, with riders on the bridge at the time attempting to squeeze themselves up against bridge supports on either side. Fortunately, spectators waved down the train, and it patiently sat for hours as riders streamed by.
A further obstacle was the 35 kilometres of railway ties, which made the ride a bone jarring effort and broke up any attempt at a rhythm. Finally, a waist-deep swamp had some of the smaller riders all but swimming with their bikes.
"This was another hard stage," said Dietsch, "just as hard as the others. The trestle bridge was difficult to do; you were watching where you put your foot all the time, and the railway [ties] were very rough and hard on the body."
"It was really tough today," agreed Montoya, who successfully held onto second overall after finishing fourth on the stage. "Thomas Dietsch and Tinker [Juarez] were setting a hard pace in the early part of the race, and on the last train track section Lico, Dietsch and Zahnd attacked and just rode away from us."
The strongest riders pulled away quickly on the first climb, and were content to work together for much of the race. A core group of six formed by the top of the initial climb - Ramirez, Dietsch, Thomas Zahnd (Stoeckli-Craft), Paolo Montoya, Dieber Esquivel (IBP Pensiones) and Tinker Juarez (Cannondale).
This group stayed together until the railway tracks after the trestle bridge, when Dietsch, Zahnd and Ramirez rode away from the others. Montoya and Esquivel worked together to keep the gap to less than 90 seconds, with Juarez gradually falling back further and further.
At the finish, Dietsch got the holeshot into the narrow stairway to take the stage, with Zahnd just behind, and Ramirez coasting in seven seconds later with a huge smile on his face.
"I'm very pleased to win; I've entered five times and won four of them," stated Ramirez. "This one maybe means the most, because the level of competition keeps getting better and higher. Also, for the first time we crossed the whole country with no gaps, so I feel that I am really the champion now."
"I will be back for sure, for five," he added.
Haywood and Kobin rode together for the entire stage, with Haywood not contesting the sprint, and clearly exhausted at the end.
"She [Kobin] definitely deserved the win," said Haywood. "Today she was on her A game. That long section at the end may have been flat, but those bridges ... she was practically running over them and I was taking little baby steps. Then the train tracks - those were pounding me, taking so much out of me. I think her stage racing experience showed today."
- Race Director Luis Diego Viquez said that the rain definitely made it more difficult for the organization as well as the riders. "We had lots of problems with the weather; unlike last year, which was really good. It made everything harder for the logistics, for marking the course, for getting our people in place. The rain makes us work double."
Diego Viquez also said that they will stick with the four day format introduced this year. "The four days [format] confirmed itself this year; it works."
- Sandro Spaeth (Ride Magazine-Texn) was seventh in stage 3 and just outside the top-5, but became quite ill overnight after getting hit by an electrolyte imbalance. Other riders and a doctor who was participating in the race all pitched in to provide nutrients and assistance, and Spaeth was fine by the next morning, but did not start the final stage.
- Canadian riders had strong performances on the final day - Andreas Hestler (Rocky Mountain-Haywood) finished 7th and moved up to 17th in the final overall, Kris Sneddon (Kona) was ninth and was the top Canadian in the overall standings at ninth, Cory Wallace (Freewheel Jasper) was 11th (13th overall) and Jon Nutbrown (Ridleys-Giant) was 15th in the final stage for 18th overall.
In the Master A category the top finisher overall was William Valverde (Vedova y Vedova), and top Canadian Michel Bujold (Lessard Cycle) in 18th. Master B had a Canadian champion in Mike Charuke (Team Whistler), as did Veteran with Sandy Mitchell (Gerick Cycle), ahead of Tony Routley (Team Whistler).
- Finally, thanks to the La Ruta crew for their terrific assistance and unfailing smiles. Special thanks to my moto driver Gilbert, who ferried me across Costa Rica, through rainforests, across mountains and fording streams - much of it in pouring rain!
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