Wednesday, November 22, 2006

TINKER IS TOP AMERICAN AT ’06 LA RUTA DE LOS CONQUISTADORES


November 3-5, Costa Rica

First off, I gotta say there’s nothing easy about La Ruta. It’s three days of racing that starts on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica and ends at the Caribbean side. Everything about it is hard! The stages are long; the climbs are so steep that you end each day with a sore neck from looking up so much. It’s hot and humid; it usually rains sometime each day, so you’re dealing with mud and grit all up in your chain and drivetrain. You see lots of broken derailleurs and stuff out there. It’s a challenge just to keep your bike running well—you gotta carry chain lube with you and check over the bike every chance you get. And even though so much of it is fireroad, it’s all technical stuff where you’re skating around everywhere. They have these long steep hills full of boulders and rocks and ruts, just nasty. And you never know what’s around the next corner, how far it is to the top of the hill or even how far it is to the finish. Spectators will tell you “ten more kilometers” then ten kilometers later they’re still saying “ten more kilometers.” It’s hard, it’s torture, it’s three days of suffering, and I love it!

I was honored to be invited this year. I skipped it last year and was anxious to go again. Before the race some of the mountain bike websites made a big deal about Jerimiah Bishop and Adam Craig going—which was great to hear! They’re the current young, fast guys, and it was good that the level of competition was outstanding. It did kind of bother me that they barely mentioned me going. I’ve been in the top ten three times and finished second my first year there. So in the end I was proud to finish 6th overall as top American. I am sorry that Bishop crashed out on the second day—and I wish him well—he crashed so bad! He’s just a guy that goes for it. Even though he paid a big price for what could have been a stage win that day, it's great to see a fellow American stepping it up and riding well to take the lead.

Things went pretty well for me. On the first day I knew I was going to have a good race. I felt good - and the tired, worn-out feeling that had haunted me since the Race Across America was finally gone. I rode my new 6-13 Scalpel, a beautiful bike. I used my new Kenda Dred Tread tires. I’m so happy with them. I used the 1.8, front and rear. I rode this same bike at La Chupacabra in Mexico and wasn’t real happy with it there, but in-between I experimented with different stems and seat adjustments and now I got it all dialed in. I couldn’t be happier with it now! It rode fantastic! If my bike and my riding was as in sync in Mexico as it was in Costa Rica I probably would’ve won the Chupacabra. That first day I had good legs and felt like I was climbing really well. But I kick myself for not bringing a bike set-up with triple chainrings. Most of the mountain bike events I’ve done this year just two rings was plenty, but LaRuta has so many long steep climbs that everyone, and I mean everyone would want a granny gear. My muscles were ready to bust out of my legs! I ended up walking up a lot hills where I could have stayed in the saddle and just spun my way up like Bishop was doing with his triple. No way I could power the pedals up those hills to keep up with him. Not when there were hours still to go. But I was feeling good physically and was making good time walking up and jogging up the really steep hills. Even the good days can have their bad moments. I had one hard fall. Thankfully the ground was soft. My front wheel kind of caught a rut—going through these puddles you don’t see the ruts under the water. I got a big bruise under my ribs on my stomach. While I was falling I turned my head so my helmet would take the impact. It still rung my bell for a moment. I finished 6th that first day.

Day two was good. It was nearly a 4-hour day with a climb up to the top of the Turrialba volcano. The one thing I can say about that day is that they need more feed zones out there. It was tough enough for us professionals near the front, going miles and miles just hoping that there was water or food soon, but think about the poor amateurs, out there doing something tougher than they’ll ever do again, and how much are they suffering. There were times when I was about ready to ride into somebody’s yard and fill my HydraPak from their water-hose! That day I stayed upright the whole time, didn’t make any mistakes, rode with my head and didn’t get any flats on the descent like a lot of riders, and finished out the day in 7th, 21 minutes behind the leaders.

Day three was a different story. Real sketchy. Plus partway through the day I saw that part of my rear derailleur had broken. The back of the lower cage where the jockey wheel connects was cracked and part of it was gone. It was still shifting alright but I knew I had to be careful with it and be real gentle with my shifting. One forced shift and I’d be walking! Plus I was feeling the miles of the first two days and didn’t sleep well the night before; I was sore and the bruises from the first day were letting me know that they were there. But I was still able to dig deep, keep my mind focused “I gotta keep going, gotta keep going,” even though I was suffering, and still got a decent finish to stay ahead of Adam Craig for the overall.

After the last day’s stage it was nice to hang out with Thomas Frischknecht and Andreas Hestler. Andreas had been a team-mate before and I always enjoyed his company. But after all these years of racing against each other at World Cups, NORBAs, World Championships, on and on, this was the first time that I’ve ever just hung out with Frischy. We hung out by the beach and had some beers and talked. We tried to get Tom Ritchey to come over and hang too, but he was pretty trashed and just wanted to get to his hotel. While we were there visiting, Thomas invited me to go to Switzerland to be in a charity race that he’s put on for years. I’m sorry that it doesn’t fit my race schedule, but it was nice that he asked and I really appreciated it when he said that I’ve always been one of his heroes. Me? What a compliment! Friscy won LaRuta last year, but things didn’t go as well for him this time. He got 10th, something like 40 minutes back. Which show that this really was the hardest competition La Ruta has ever had.

Some of the racers told me “You’ve had a lot to do with helping this race grow to this point,” that was pretty cool! Back when I got second in 2001 it was a real hard race, but the field was mostly Costa Ricans. Now you have everybody from everywhere; some top Americans, Mexicans, South Americans, South Africans, top World Cup guys like Frischy and the guys who were there from Italy, Spain and France. It’s such a big deal now compared to the early days. A real tough, real fast international field. It was good to see that.

It was good for me to finish off the season like that. To be able to finish as top American, to be able to have had a better race than Frischy, that’s great! It’s been years since I competed against him, even more years since I beat him--that would have to go back to a World Cup or something in the 90’s. It’s so cool that we’re both still out there doing what we love to do. La Ruta is a great race. They’re going to add a fourth stage in ’07, so I’m looking forward to racing it again next year. This year some people wanted me to race the Masters class, but I raced in the open/pro category. Looking at the results I see that I would have smoked the Masters class, like well over an hour ahead of second. But a 6th place in the open/pro means more than a win in the Masters, I think. I look at it this way, the results say that I beat Adam Craig by over twenty minutes, but I say that I beat him by twenty years! It’s good to know that at 45 years old I still have the strength not only to compete against the current 25 year old stars, but to also show them that the old guys still have it.

That’s it for now. It’s time for some R&R, to enjoy the holidays and for me and Terri to get ready for the arrival of our son, sometime around Christmas.

Peace and out,
Tink

1 comment:

jeffcote said...

Good riding TInker. You kick butt!