La Ruta de los Conquistadores Preview: Manny Prado knows it better than anyone

November 4, 2009
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 In 2 weeks, hundreds of people will gather in Costa Rica, the ‘rich coast,’ to follow the arduous race across the country that follows the same journey taken by Spanish conquistador Juan de Caballon back in the 16th century. Lucky for us, we will be on our iron (in our case, carbon fiber) stallions.

Manny Prado (R) with Ben Bostrom in the Costa Rican rainforest. Sho-Air photo

 It took Caballon nearly 20 years to cross the torturous, rugged terrain. We will cover the land in four days. Many ask, ‘Why was this Spanish conquistador in Costa Rica in the first place?’ According to textbooks, Caballon was exploring the country, but such exploration should have killed him. The real story tells me that he had some other goals in mind, or should I say, ‘golds in mine.’.

  Costa Rica used to be a country overwhelmingly rich in gold. Some say that Caballon took so much gold from the country that if we were to charge the Europeans the same interest we get charged for loans, they would owe us more than double the planet’s weight in gold, even if we gave them a 200 year grace period! Costa Rica may not have the gold that it used to, but it will always remain the ‘rich coast':

*Costa Rica is home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity. We even have the Golden Toad, a creature that is unique to the world.

RRRRRIVIT! Wikipedia photo

*Costa Rica has the second largest volcano crater in the world, Volcan Poas, which is only 40 minutes away from the Juan Santa Maria Airport near San Jose. *Volcan Irazú is the highest volcano in Costa Rica, standing at 11,260 feet above sea level. Day 3 of La Ruta climbs up and over Volcan Irazú.

  How did this upcoming race come to be? In 1992, Roman Urbina, along with a group of friends, had made the first attempt to follow Juan de Caballon’s route. Shortly after, Urbina was compelled to share this epic adventure with the rest of us.   This world-class mountain bike race, attracting competitors from all around the globe, is known as La Ruta de los Conquistadores. . . or is it? Maybe, ‘La Ruta de los Natives’ is a more accurate name for the race. Locals have actually dominated this race 14 of the 16 years that it has been in existence. Some say that the locals win because they have an unfair advantage. Local support definitely helps, but I’ve raced La Ruta the past five years and witnessed first-hand that the race is won through sheer hard work, confidence, and determination. You need to be able to drop your competition on the steepest parts of the course some as steep as 30+ % Grade. Winners include former farmers and just plain, tough people who are willing to work hard to win and defend the race. (Pretty soon, we will become Conquistadors of this beautiful land.)

About 500 years later we are now trying to do the same, but with much better equipment, nutrition and for sure, much better places to sleep at night. Something that has not changed much is the dominance of the Natives, here is the list of some of the Native and Conquistador contenders names along with their accomplishments:



Federico Ramirez: 5 Time La Ruta Winner; 2008 China Olympian; 5 Time National Champion; 5th, 2008 Sea Otter Classic; top 30 at several UCI World Cups.


Jose Adrian Bonilla: Former La Ruta Champion; Road, TT and MTB National Champion; NORBA National Short Track winner; NORBA Nationals top 10 finisher; top 15 at several UCI World Cups.


Deiber Esquibel: Pan-American Championships Gold Medalist; Pan-American Games Silver Medalist; 3 Time Costa Rica Marathon National Champion; Copa Endurance Champion; Top 10 Bike Trans-Alp; Top 5 La Ruta 3 times.


Manuel Prado: Current Costa Rica XCO National Champion, 3rd at the Leadville 100, 2 Time Winner of the Vision Quest, 8th Overall NORBA Nationals, 3rd Place Overall American Mountain Classic Stage Race, 3rd Overall BC Bike Race,14th Place X-Games Flatland BMX, 5 time finisher of La Ruta, 5th overall in 2008.



Tinker Juarez: 2 Time USA Olympian; 3 Time NORBA National Champion; 4 Time 24 Hour National Champion; 3 Top Ten UCI World Championships; 2nd Place La Ruta twice.


Jeremiah Bishop: 3 Time USA Marathon National Champion; 4 NORBA National victories; 8th Place 2006 UCI World Championships; American Mountain Classic Stage Race Champion; Pan- American Games Gold Medalist.


Roberto Heras: 5th Place 2000 Tour de France; 3 Time Winner Vuelta a España; 6th Place 1999 Giro de Italia; 7th Place La Ruta 2008.


Ben Bostrom: 2nd Place 24 Hours of Moab Duo National Championships; 4th Place 24 Hours of Moab, solo; 3rd Overall West Coast Marathon Championships; 1998 AMA Superbike champion; 2008 AMA Supersport Champion; 2008, 2009 Daytona 200 winner; 2003 X-Games Supermoto Gold Medalist.



The real story of La Ruta isn’t about who wins; it’s about the people who spend months and even years preparing just to survive. Men and women—ranging from teenagers to 50-year-olds—show up with a smile, and finish with an even bigger smile. Never before have you seen people so happily enduring so much pain. It is almost as if La Ruta casts some mysterious love spell over them. This love is what brings us to Costa Rica for the 17th edition of the race. We will be arriving two weeks early to acclimated and pre-ride most of the stages. This year will be an awesome race to follow! During the next few days all kinds of tips will be posted about our experience in Costa Rica. Our goal is to motivate you to do this race and make it much easier to survive the elements and whatever else the race decides to throw at you.

The first thing we’d like to share with you is a packing checklist containing all the items you could possibly need for a race like this. you can download the checklist from here, PDF reader required to open file.

Thanks for reading, Manuel Prado, Ben Bostrom.


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