By Andrew Mitchell
La Ruta de los Conquistadores cemented its reputation as one of the toughest mountain bike races on the planet this year, with organizers adding more trails, reopening train trestles that were closed last year, and putting in a few challenging descents.
Two Whistler riders, adventure racers Megan Rose and Lina Augaitis, took part, as did part-time Whistler resident Andreas Hestler, Squamish rider Charlotte Klein, and Pemberton’s Hillary Harrison.
While riders got lucky in some ways — no rain this year — some sections were still muddy from a previous storm and temperatures were through the roof. Dozens of riders pulled out in each day of the race with heat ailments and broken bikes, and for many it was a battle just to make it to the finish. This year just 210 of 510 starters made it to the end, including all Sea to Sky mountain bikers — a testament to the challenging trails in the region, as well as how hot it was this summer.
Day one was shorter than previous years at 97 km, but took longer because of a challenging reroute up a gravel trail — bringing the total vertical gain to 4,420 metres or 14,401 feet.
Day two was shorter at 67 km and with 2,654 vertical metres (8,787 feet) of climbing.
Day three is the longest at 122 km, but has the least vertical — 1,720 metres or 5,650 feet. Day three also features a long section of train track, with riders walking their bikes over trestles above caiman alligator infested waters.
With the advantage going to Latin American riders who were accustomed to the heat and altitude, Leonardo Paez Leon of Columbia placed first overall, ahead of Andrei Amador and Frederico Ramirez Mendez of Costa Rica.
Hestler was the top Canadian rider, close to three and a half hours back of the leader and 18 th overall.
In the women’s race, Canadian adventure racer Marg Fedyna placed first overall with a total time of 19 hours, 11 minutes and 15 seconds, more than an hour faster than Louise Kobin of the U.S.
Harrison placed third, just 15 minutes back of Kobin. Harrison is a veteran of the Atlantic to Pacific coast race, and has won the women’s category in the past.
Charlotte Klein was seventh, 5:30:32 back of the leader.
Megan Rose placed ninth, 5:56:14 back.
“My goal going into the race was just to finish by the cut off times, so I am extremely happy with my final result,” said Rose, who hails from Australia and lives in Whistler. She got into adventure racing this year, and had a solid rookie season that included a few wins.
“Day one was grueling… through mud, gravel, rivers and the heat of the day,” she said. “Not many competitors were fans of day one, but it was my favourite, it offered so much variety.
“Day two (I had) three flat tires over a span of a few kilometres, all pinch flats from the crazy downhill on loose gravel. It cost me about 15 minutes and four places, but there were plenty of others in the same situation.”
Rose’s teammate Augaitis finished 7:11:35 back of the lead time to rank 15 th overall. Her best time was on the second stage where she ranked as high as 13 th .