Stage 1: Make or Break Day
By Adam Pulford, CTS Senior Coach
Whether you make it or not, I think there’s still some breaking for everyone. Breaking of chains, rims, cables, egos, and break downs: I saw it all today. It’s La Ruta’s toughest stage, and I’m glad we’ve gotten it out of the way.
The first punishing climb of the day comes right out of the gate from Jaco. It's ten kilometers from the start line to the top, and it takes the average racer 50-90min, most of it averaging 15-17%. It’s a grind… From there, we roll along a ridge, seeing beautiful sights of the wild Costa Rican countryside as we climb up in to the entrance of the infamous Carara Jungle. Past the entrace we went down what was basically a mud shoot down to a river crossing. I was hanging my butt off the back of the bike hitting the brakes, skating my way around ravines and dodging nasty rocks. At the first major river I had to pick my bike up and wade through the water slowly, sometimes up to my thighs in water, careful not to trip on the rocks in the bed of the river. From there, it’s the rugged jungle. Hot, humid, muddy, and it treats everyone on the same: it’s hard. This year, we took a left through the jungle (it usually goes right at a fork in the trail) due to heavy rainfall. There was some speculation that it was easier, less hike-a-bike, and shorter. That’s all rumor. It’s the same hard-as-hell rumble-in-the-jungle. Plenty of climbing, hike-a-bike, and the mud is still muddy; maybe a half mile shorter, but no significant difference. Gringo and Tico alike were both suffering from what I could see, and this gringo was feelin’ it!
Once we descended out of the jungle we made our way up the longest climb of the day, a paved 12mile climb, about 5-6% on average. I was feeling pretty good on that one, even better then last year, so I settled in to a good tempo and got back on top of my hydration. When you get back on pavement and can actually ride, you’ll welcome 6%, even if it is for 12miles! But, it’s not over yet…
A fast and tricky descent with steep grades and sharp rocks tests your focus and skills late in Stage 1. You pass through a small town and you start to get a sense that your close, but not quite. The race leads you to one last smack to the gut: a hill formally known as “heart brake hill”. I think the name speaks for itself. It’s exactly what you don’t want when you don’t need it. Once you’re over the top of that, you scream down through Costa Rican traffic into the town of Santa Ana where we are now resting up in the hotel. Below, I’ve highlighted all the key sections of the day in the SRM power file:
Totals for the day: 7hrs and 36min of riding, normalized power of 225, avg power of 190watts, 5,120kJ of total work, and 11,100ft of climbing over 68miles. That includes the jungle and everything! The horizontal dotted lines in the power file below are my approximate threshold values for power and heart rate at a cadence of 90rpm (315W, 173bpm, and 90rpms). Click on the image to see a larger version.
Two points of specify on this day:
1. Low cadence climbing
2. Hike-a-bike through a hot jungle
The first climb of the day is so steep that there it’s all low-cadence (60-70rpms) at Tempo to Lactate Threshold power for the first hour of the race for most athletes. I kept myself in check, knowing that the HR would be high because of the heat and the effort of the climb. Because of this, I was able to keep passing people later in the race who had burned too many matches early on and were cramping or bonking because of it. To train properly for this race, you need lots of low-cadence, moderate-to-high power efforts in your training rides.
Finally, if you’re going to have 1-2hrs of hike-a-bike in the race, you better spend some time pushing or carrying your bike uphill in training. Even the elites were wrecked going through the jungle, and I do suggest if you want to do La Ruta, you incorporate hard, steep hike-a-bikes into your training.
We had CTS athletes in the top 10 in their categories all the way to the last CTS rider in for the day. All but one of our 20 made the check points, and even he will wake up and tackle another 10,000ft of climbing on Stage 2. Stay tuned for more tomorrow!