One of the many perks of working in the food and outdoor industry, is the ability to experience eventual overlap between your work and your hobbies.
I was fortunate enough to have that happen here at PROBAR last month.
Our GM casually asked if I’d be interested in participating in one of the endurance mountain bike events in Costa Rica that our Central American distributors were sponsoring this spring.
Mmmmm yes please!
Having never been to Costa Rica, this was an amazing opportunity to travel, race my bike and make new friends throughout the whole trip.
100km with just under 9k ft of climbing is usually the type of events I look forward to the most as it suits my abilities as a cyclist well, but, for all of us who have experienced this snowfall record-breaking winter here in Utah, I was a bit nervous about the lack of outdoor training time before the event.
Coming from mid 40’s to 50’s to high 90’s and humid was a bit of a shock to the body when I landed in San Jose. I knew the best thing I could do was to stay hydrated, snack on some BOLT, apply plenty of sunscreen and let the body get used to the heat before racing the next day!
I met the Costa Rican PROBAR team, Marijose and her husband, as well as two local PROBAR ambassadors for a shakeout ride the day before. It was fun chatting with Eunice and Guido, picking their brain on what it’s like training and competing in Costa Rica. It was really cool to see how passionate the locals are about endurance mountain sports!
After our ride, I had dinner with Marijose and a group of her friends at a local restaurant and made my way back to my hotel for an early bedtime as the race started the next day at 6 AM which would mean an early wake up to have breakfast and getting ready.
I rode over from the hotel to the start of the event which was very close by and was immediately surprised by the number of riders who where already there and getting ready for the day. I’ve been to many races across the US, in terms of number of participant this one definitely surpassed everything else by quite a bit!
It got a bit chaotic trying to stage near the front of the field, I stood there with 10min to go as the race promoter was sharing some last minute course briefing in Spanish, none of which I understood. The race finally got started and with a 10min or so ‘neutral’ roll out, I just tried to stay near the front without wasting too much energy. As soon as the flag dropped and the race was on, it was ON! People where attacking nonstop and the pack started gradually picking up the pace as no one wanted to let groups up the road. It was my first time experiencing a mass start race WITH E-bikes, which made it interesting as some of them started buzzing by us incredibly fast with their motor assisted bikes.
Soon enough, we got to the base of a very steep road climb and that was a nice way to start splitting up the group a bit. As this was still only 5miles in a 60mile race, I didn’t want to go TOO hard but also wanted to find myself with a group not far off the lead. I caught on the back wheel of a group of 3 other riders after a front group of 4 had gone up the road.
To my surprise, there would be no single track at all during the event. I suppose the tropical-jungle environment probably makes it too difficult to maintain trails. The race was on a mix of paved road and fire roads, both, extremely steep uphill and downhill. This made the race very fast which would make working in groups much more efficient than riding by yourself.
Being the only foreigner in my group, I could tell the other riders all knew each other and a bit of a coalition to try and get rid of me was starting to form. I would try and keep the pace up during some of the downhill and flatter section, only to be fully attacked by their surges anytime the road tilted upwards. I would lose their wheel and gradually work my way back to them, knowing my abilities and not wanting to go unnecessarily hard on the steeper climbs. I yo-yo’d with the group on during the next hour or so of the race before some of them started to fall off of their own pace setting. My tactic of riding within myself was starting to pay off.
When I was at the start line, I noticed I was the only rider with a hydration pack. Everyone else was running a very lean setup with only a small water bottle. It had me a bit worried as I figured they probably all had support crew at the aid stations to hand them extra bottles while I would have to stop, not to mention, carry an extra 3 pounds or so on my back. I felt that extra weight on all those steep climbs but it eventually paid off as I didn’t have to stop at the last aid station while the other riders momentarily did.
I was able to pass them and push it on the next descent. I got clear of the riders I was riding with and soon saw the front 2 riders in the distance. With only 6 miles, to go I pushed as hard as I could on this last long climb knowing there would only be a long descent and a quick climb towards the finish left. I was hoping to catch them right before the top of the descent, which I had pre-ridden the day before.
Knowing a section of trail is a huge advantage as you can start really pushing the pace with confidence. I was able to just latch on as we crested the climb, sprinted by one of the riders and found myself following the lead rider. Halfway through the descent, I made the second pass and used the the trail knowledge to my advantage to try and create some separation. We got to the bottom of the descent without crashing despite ripping through the loose and steep turns. I saw the other rider on my wheel, and rode a hard tempo on the final false flat uphill, gradually riding harder and harder until one of us would blow up.
I saw him struggling and then standing up to try and accelerate to stay in the wheel and in the process he started cramping and had to sit back down. Must've not packed some BOLT's with him. I was relieved to not have to sprint to the finish line and rode my own pace for the last 2km.
I was happily surprised and excited for my performance, despite the heat and the course challenges, I knew my previous racing experience would help me navigate a new style of racing against competitors I didn’t know.
At the race venue, Mariana and Marijose were very excited and we started sharing stories when Guido and Eunice finished their races as well. Costa Rica has such a thriving endurance sports competition scene! It was also really cool to see a much better-balanced men to women ratio there than we have unfortunately in the US.
I had 24hrs to pack my bike, do some sightseeing (jungle & sloth tours!) and work my way back to the airport before flying back, tired, slightly sunburnt, and with many great memories!
“Arenal Epic is one of the most beautiful races I’ve participated in, very nice views and many miles with good climbing.
Favorite Product: MEAL Chocolate Coconut
Next goal: La Ruta de los Conquistadores.”
"My name is Guido Fernández, I am an ambassador for PROBAR Costa Rica and I do different adventure sports such as Ultra Trail Running, Mountain Bike, Long Mountain Trekking.
I recently competed in Toyota Arenal Epic, a MTB event in the 45K category, I obtained a Top 10 in the general classification, which was very disputed because it is a very fast and explosive category. It is a spectacular event because you border the largest lake in Costa Rica and its views, ascents and places are unique.
My next event is a Trail Running 50k in Rincón de la Vieja, Costa Rica in June, followed by the Volcano 100 on Mountain Bike in September where I will compete in the 100 miles!”