The annual La Ruta de los Conquistadores is one of the toughest mountain bike stage races on the planet. What it lacks in technical terrain it makes up for in mud, long climbs, endless descents, and length. Average riders can take 10 hours or more to finish each section.
Three Whistler riders took part this year. Mike Charuk successfully defended his Master B title, placing first out of 98 racers. On the four stages he was first, second, third and third respectively, and finished with a time of 21 hours, 53 minutes and 44 seconds. Costa Rican rider Alfaro Melvin Rojas was second in 22:15:06, after placing eighth on the first day then winning the next three stages. Luckily Charuk built up a strong lead after the first stage, more than 22 minutes faster than the next rider and 52 minutes over Rojas. Third place in that category went to another Canadian, Andrew Handford, in 22:36:47.
Tony Routley placed third out of almost 40 riders in the Veterans category, behind Norwegian rider — and former Tour de France racer — Kristian Silseth Ole and veteran Costa Rican rider Rob Ballesteros Villalobos. Routley’s time was 24:11:48, just 16:53 back of the lead after four days.
Both Charuk and Routley raced for Team Whistler/Ryders Eyewear.
Dr. Cathy Zeglinski accomplished her goal of finishing in the top 10 in the women’s category with a time of 31:49:47, 6:53:07 back of the leader, Adriana Rojas Cubero of Costa Rica. Canada’s Sandra Walter was second, and Sara Bresnick-Zocchi of the U.S. third.
“It was a brutal, brutal experience,” said Zeglinski, who was racing La Ruta for the first time. “I don’t think anything can really prepare you for that. Nobody told me how much pavement you ride, and even from a Whistler perspective it was tough with four hour climbs.”
Zeglinski said it helped to have a background that includes road riding, with riders taking off in a pack at the beginning, and taking turns leading and drafting on the course.
The weather was the best in recent years with almost no rain, although there was a lot of mud on the first section because of all the rain from the previous week. The temperature also climbed to over 40 degrees on the final day, causing sunburns and heat-related illnesses.
“The first day I was in fifth after the mud section, at about the 68 km mark, then I hit the pavement and it was brutal. People were lying on the side of the road, and one guy was in intensive care because he drank too much water and not enough electrolytes. I just started to fade after that and watch the other girls pass me. The last day was really tough, and the last 30 km were so hard, it was all on a hot, dusty gravel road.”