Friend of fat-bike.com, resident of Costa Rica and leader of Team CoreCo, Will Muecke, wrote over 10,000 words on his experiences racing the La Ruta de los Conquistaodres on a fat-bike, forming the team of fat-bike riders who joined him on the odyssey and the genisis of the idea of attacking this race on a fat-bike in the first place. Since the event was recently completed we will start at, or near, the end of the over year long journey with coverage of the race itself.
La Ruta de los Conquistaodres is an adventure race in Costa Rica that has been going on for 20 years with the 2013 race running October 24th through 26th. The course traverses Costa Rica 310 km from the west coast on the Pacific to the east coast on the Caribbean over gravel, jeep roads, asphalt and single track. Throw in varied terrain including jungle, active volcanoes, farms, coffee fields, forests and small villages as we as a hot, humid, tropical climate in the lower elevations to very cold, high-mountain temperatures in the mountains and you’ve got the recipe for a epic adventure. With that said, here is Will’s Report on Day 1:
LET THE GAMES BEGIN: FAT LA RUTA, DAY 1 (JACO TO EL RODEO, 94KM, +4,000M ASCENT)
Without delay, the 2013 inaugural Fat La Ruta kicked off at 6am on October 24th. OK, there was some delay. We were waiting on the La Ruta media helicopter to arrive, which it did (just a bit tardy).
The buzz up to the race was great. The registration day gave lots of time to mill about and see folks like Todd Wells, Alex Grant and last year’s winner, our own Costa Rican native, Paolo Montoya, up close and personal. The organizers cap the race at 450 riders, so the feel is that this is a small race – a local event with some international talent and flare.
The start is a single corral (no need for a split field with only 450 riders) with pros up front and everyone else filling in behind. The first few kilometers out of Jaco are a controlled pace, but that does not mean that there is full control within the pack.
One rider (teammate of Roman Urbina), was going for a gap in the lead group at +200 meters from the corral (where beach sand turns to a stretch of pavement into town) when the gap suddenly closed, wheels touched and he went down for the count with a fractured wrist and a shattered carbon steerer post.
As the field stretched out and the elite riders gained a gap on the majority of the group, the fat-bike riders surged with the elites and as the pavement turned to dirt and the terrain angled upwards, it was fat-biker Jim Meyer on his carbon Beargrease who was out front for the cameras and the crowds going up the neck of the first climb.
But that climb is long and steep and punishing. For the fat-bikers, the terrain was challenging, but both Jim and Elias climbed with the elites up and over the 700-meter vertical ascent. Marco, Wayne and Nat of Team CoreCo surged ahead with that group, and as they headed into Carara the fatties were banging it out with the skinny tire elite racers over the tough terrain.
Then bad luck struck Marco and the first of his mechanicals, a flat. The group surged on leaving Marco to his repairs. Dan, Guy and Patrick all followed. Ligia Madrigal was staying with the elite women and was gaining time going into the first jungle descents.
All in all, things were looking good. So far…
Costa Rica has a way of sticking it to you no matter what the time of day and no matter what the microclimate. It is said there are 12 microclimates in Costa Rica, and each is more stifling and oppressive than the last.
The jungle of Carara National Park is one of the worst to race through by bike. With 100% humidity you cannot get away from the heat. The steamy environment in the deeply vegetated tracks is trumped only by the direct sunlight that burns you on the hike-a-bike climbs.
Much of Carara is unrideable on a 29er or other traditional MTB tire. With a fat-bike, you get about 50% more rideable terrain, but that is all that Carara will give you. There are still sections where you are slip-sliding trying to climb a muddy 6-foot step with your bike in one hand and your fingers on your free hand plunging into the mud tract for any additional purchase. Toe spikes are a must, but only help to slow your backward slide long enough to throw your next step forward.
The hours spent in Carara tick by in slow motion. This is the place where people drop from the race from dehydration having covered only 25 kilometers from the start. River crossings are many. Physical stress is high.
And then, this year there was a surprise visitor of a huge boa greeting riders on the route with a girth as big as a cyclist’s thigh and at least 3-meters of serpentine length. Welcome to the jungle.
It was in this section of the course that Ligia was cursing my name, as she told me at the finish line.
The red clay of Carara sticks to tires and gains weight buy adhering to all manner of grit and dirt like glue. Ligia claimed that the tires she was riding (NOT HuskerDus!) were sucking up the mud and becoming immovable in the fork and rear yoke.
She was pushing a pig at one point, she claimed. A pig that did not want to move. And that pig was dragging her down.
But Ligia is a champion who is used to overcoming adversity and pushing through the mental and physical barriers that every extreme endurance event like La Ruta presents its competitors.
While Elias and Jim emerged from Carara with most of the pack behind them, there were still over 60 kilometers and several thousand meters of climbing before crossing the line in El Rodeo on the outskirts of San Jose.
The one true disadvantage that a fat-bike has in XC races is on long sections of pavement. No matter what the size of your engine, the sheer footprint of a 4″ tire on blacktop produces a friction coefficient far greater than that on a skinny 29er XC tire. The second half of Day 1 has a lot of pavement climbing up and out of the town of San Pedro on the way towards San Jose and El Rodeo.
And while the fat-bike produces multiple advantages on dirt that at least equalize the higher drag coefficient, on a paved roadway the skinny racers will most likely drop the fatties, and that is what the elite group did and the winners that day took out over an hour of time from the fat-bikers who followed them across the line.
Elias came across at just over 6-hours, followed by Jim Meyer who was 22 minutes behind him. Elias clocked in at #3, overall, in the Men’s Open category with Jim Meyer finishing at #6. Wayne (#13 finisher), Marco (#27 place), Nat (#45) and Dan (#53) all followed in time. Ligia finished among the top women racers, overall, and was the #1 finisher in the Women’s Fat Bike category.
And the rest of us, Guy, Parick and me came through in the rain, a welcome cooling at first until the drizzle became a downpour that, in turn, became a blinding and stinging cataclysmic cracking of the sky.
At least the bikes were somewhat cleaner when we finally hit the line.
Thanks for the Day 1 report, Will! We will get on to Day 2 tomorrow!
BTW, the fat-bike racers were competing for custom belt buckles that Will and commissioned for the event! Two more days and a dedicated two will sport these one-of-a-kind-trophies.
Photos in this article were provided by the author and every effort was made to credit, or leave intact, the original images. Some resizing was necessary due to file size constraints. Also, the chronology of the images may not match the exact day or time of the description in the article but all are from the event and are representative of the race conditions.