Fall update and onto the Tour of Costa Rica

After the 24Hr Solo World Championships in California this past October life took a good slow down following a lengthy later eye surgery recovery. Getting bored resting on the couch, I attempted to work. My friend Matt Hadley linked up a great job cutting a portion of the Trans Canada trail from Canmore to Fernie.  After 3 days of this I broke a finger pretty good, ending up in an arm cast, and thus life slowed down even more. Workers and employers in Canada pay loads of money to The Workers Compensation Board (WCB) to help us through injuries, but when they offered to pay  $17 a day as compensation I started looking for a plane ticket to a warm, cheap place to recover.   IMG_1472IMG_1439

Earlier in the fall I had signed up as rider for Jean Michel Lachances 7 person team to take on the 12 day UCI Tour of Costa Rica Road race. We were already down two riders and not wanting to bail on my teammates on this Ride for the Planet composite team I took up riding an indoor trainer for the first time in years.  The Ride for the Planet team is a project put on by Jean Michel to raise awareness for looking after our planet and treating it with environmental respect.  It’s a great cause, as we all depend on this Planet we live on yet many people still treat it like a dump and abuse it as if we have another one to move to one we mess this one up.  Nope, this is all we have.  Lets look after it!web_235318_nasa__look_after_our_planet__we_only_have_one__9005

Averaging around 3-4 hours a week on the indoor trainer was enough for my head and mixed in with some snowshoeing seemed to keep the mind sane and the body a little bit fit.  My arm cast came off a week before the race allowing for a bit of outdoor training before hopping a plane out of the wintery Canadian weather and landing in the Tropics of Costa Rica!IMG_1458

Vuelta de Costa Rica Stage 3 Report:

The first few stages of the Vuelta have been an experiment as I figure out how my body is going to respond to 2 months of on the couch training.    Surprisiningly it has responded alright, although the 40 degree heat and super fit Latin racers have kept things hard.
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On the Neutral ride to the start of Stage 1 a few riders took a wrong turn and delayed the start.  Once they were found, the 11 stage, 1500 km race kicked off. Just 20 seconds into it a Taxi swerved into the front of the peloton which was going 40 km/hr.  It was a disaster as bodies and bikes flew everywhere.   Miraculously no one was seriously injured.  The local Tico racers were pissed at this dazed Taxi driver and pounded the crap out of the car before the cops came and restored civil order. It’s scary to see how careless some drivers are. Once the injured riders were attended to the race continued on for another 200 km.  The peloton was nervous and there were 6 more crashes on the day before we finally hit the finish line in Liberia to end the gongshow.  Our team gathered in a street side gutter following the race to debrief and deal with the heat stroke we all obtained.IMG_1538

Stage 2 was a beautiful ride through the Nicoya Penninsula with glances of the ocean amongst the rainforest.  The stage was calm and our teammate Anton Varabei made a huge effort and brokeaway for the last 100 km with another rider and took the Win for us Canadians.  This was a big accomplishment especially given we are a team of 5 riders racing 15 other teams with 7 riders each.  For the Costa Ricans this is there biggest race of the year, while for us Gringos its a warm way to shake off some winter fat as we start to prepare for our 2016 seasons.

Stage 3 was a fast race for the first 80 km as riders attacked and chased each other down relentlessly.    At the 80 km mark I road up to the front of the pack to give my teammate David Drouin some bottles and told him to hop on my wheel so I could launch an attack for him as he was our man to win the stage with a 3 km climb at the end of the race.  He didn’t hop on my wheel and next thing I knew I was off the front by myself.  Seeing a vuelta_ciclistica_cr_fbcouple riders in the distance I decided to ride up to them and soon we had a nice 3 man breakaway group as I joined a powerful German and a flyweight Tico.  Later we would catch the lead rider, another skinny Tico and we were 4, with a 2 minute gap on the field.

Things looked promising but my German counterpart and I figured we would be out climbed by the anorexic Ticos at the finish so we attacked them on a downhill and built a 20 second lead heading into the final 3 km climb.  This is where my couch training tactics kicked me in the ass as I started to meltdown, losing 10 seconds to my German friend and eventually being caught by 25 riders as I hit the top of the climb, 1 km from the finish.  My German escape partner Lucas, kept a 10 second gap and finished 4th. I continued my epic meltdown and drifted back to finish 29th, so close yet so far away from my first podium at a Pro road race.

Today was the first mountain Stage of the tour as we raced 100 km up into the mountains surrounding San Jose.  All us gringos from the Swiss, German and Canadian teams road normal while the Latinos went crazy and set a blistering pace up the mountainside.  Our teammate David was the top Gringo in 38th place while I cruised in with the lead Swiss and top German rider in a mid pack group.  It’s a head shaker to see how fast the winners took care of the hills on this day averaging over 38 km/hr.  Tomorrow will be another humbling experience as we tackle a 20 km time trial up a Volcano.  Other then getting dizzy by racing our hearts out the Tour has been a great way to get some early season fitness and some great tan/burn lines to show off when we return back North!

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Off for another load of rice and beans :)

 

Stage by stage results can be found at  http://www.procyclingstats.com

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24 Hour World Solo Championships

12017674_10153025564531193_6870961090379130696_oThe first 17 hours of the WEMBO World Solo 24 hour Championships in Weaverville California went great with 6 time World Champion Jason English and I cruising together with over a 30 minute lead on Josh Tostado in 3rd. The course was sweet  with a 5 km fireroad climb followed with a fast,  dusty California style single track descent back into the pit area.   The last 7 hours of this race were rather forgettable as  my vision declined to a point in which it was possible to barely make out the outline of the trail, sometimes  losing it in places in the twisty forest where it would blend into the surrounding dusty landscape.

 

In the end after 400 km and 10 000 meters + of climbing, I’d manage to finish 4th which is a big success in any 24 hour race but certainly not what I was gunning for.  One of these years it will come together. This was my 8th 24 hour solo race, making me a bit of a greenhand compared to Jason’s 30+, which I think he’s been undefeated in the last 30 or so.

Excuses don’t win you championships though and I’m set on eliminating them all for next time starting off with getting lazer eye surgery next week @ King Lasik to  eliminate the use of contact lenses which seem to factor into the eyes clouding over late into these races as they get clogged with dust and prevent enough oxygen from getting in there.  King-LASIK-logo

The race itself this year was a great one with Tinker Juarez and a handful of other guys going out like a World Cup race on the first lap.  I’d usually join these guys for this tactic but like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in the past and opted to stay with Jason as whatever he does seems to work.  By lap 3 the announcer said we were 20 minutes down on the leaders, I think this was an exaggeration but I thought “oh shit we’ll be lapped in another 6 hours”.  I turned to Jason and asked if we should pick the pace up a bit as those guys were going pretty good off the front.  “Good or hard? he responded, if they keep going that pace they’ll be curled up on the side of the trail in no time.”  Ok, I thought, this guy is calm as possible about this so I better relax a bit.  Over the next 12 hours we would overtake everyone, riding together 90% of the time with him pitting a bit faster, which turned into 30 seconds faster a lap once I started having to put eye drops in.  I’d catch back up on the climb, sometimes pulling ahead a bit, with us both descending around the same.  He was great company as we caught up on each others lives over the past two years and even had time to discuss the problems us riders have with Grizzly bears  in Canada and the drop bears in Australia.  drop-bear-619-386

If someone asked  if I was going to win this race at 3 am I would’ve bet them $1000 on it.  At 4am or so Jason put in a bit of an effort heading into the descent which I had a tough time following, blinking manically as the trail wasn’t coming across too clearly anymore.  Lap bye lap it got worse to the point I had no choice but to take the contacts out, hoping wearing my old eye glasses would help the cloudy eyes go away.  This was to no avail and my race turned into a survival mission to the finish.  12138535_10153033624431193_1358690320127826162_o

In the end Jason would keep his pace and seemed to even up it a bit towards the end to take is 6th straight World Title and tie Chris Eatough for the record.  After seeing how Jason finished the race I know even with good eyes, I will need to up my game going into the next one as he’s a wise racer and always seems to  have more left in the tank than you think he does.   I have no clue how a guy can be so consistent as everyone else  is normal and has good and bad days, yet Jason always finds a way to get it done.  Normally in 24 hour racing you try and rest going into the race. Jason has his own tactic and did a 450km, 17 hour ride  6 days before the race, flew  in Thursday night, had about 38hours to overcome jetlag from flying halfway around the World, smokes us all, and heads straight back home to take on the Australian 24 hr Champs just 5 days later.12052418_10153033623046193_8013604665322211358_o

Going into this race I wasn’t too keen on 24 hour racing after past experiences of dislocating a shoulder, passing out in the woods, cloudy eyes,  putting myself into a grave numerous times from over consuming caffeine  and sugary foods (48 caffeineated gels over 24 hours will do that)  and having numb hands and feet for weeks after races ended.  This year I swapped to rice cakes with nut butter and some chocolate blocks from my friend Stacey Stand and plain electolytes in the drink bottles. I also saw my buddy Luke Way at Balance Point Racing to get the bikes and shoes dialed in and Shannon Snow at Valeo Physio in Kelowna to make sure the body was aligned.   This had the bike and body feeling great.

 

My pit crew lead by good buddy Dave Mcnaught, Sean Babcock, Patrick Means, my Dad and Eilleen  did one hell of a job giving me every possible opportunity to win this race. You guys placed number 1 in the 24 hr pit championships last weekend I’m sure!  Obviously a few more tweeks are needed in my game plan but the elusive 24 hour World title I’ve been chasing for some years is getting closer!11148344_10153055425741035_7032576949444954146_n

After having this race end in a kick to the balls kind of way, a fire has been re-lit and I’m motivated to re-asses the situation and show up at Worlds in New Zealand this February with a whole new arsenal of bullets to fire Jason’s way and finally pull out a full 24 hours and at least be in a sprint with him on the last lap.   Off to get the eyes zapped and a little bit of normal life stuff as I’ll take an early off season this year to reset the system and come back on a whole different level for 2016!

Huge thanks to all my sponsors for making this all  happen.  Kona Bikes, Freewheel Cycle, Russ Hayes, Wild Mountain & Balance Point Racing.

Over and Out!     12045645_10153029735516193_4221337801574149181_o

 

 

24 Hour Solo World Champs

It’s been a couple years since the last 24 hour race I took part in over in Australia in the fall of 2013.  It was a rough Worlds with a few injuries and since then I have focused heavily on single day and multi stage Marathons.    24hours_full_logo_2015_WEB

This year the WEMBO 24 HR Solo Worlds will be in Weaverville California, just a short 12 hour drive from home.   My buddy/ support team of Dave Mcnaught and myself are headed there and will be followed with my Dad and his wife Eileen as well as Kona/Sellwood Cycle racer Sean Babcock from Portland to try and leave our Canadian mark on the race.
Why do a 24 hour race solo?  Why not is a better question?  Our lives on this planet are pretty short and time flashes bye.   Its one way to make it slow down for a while and truly experience every heartbeat of this existence.  The journey a 24 hour race takes your mind and body through is out of this World and a good test of character to make sure one isn’t getting soft in this World full of modern day conveniences.  Spending 24 hours inside on a couch watching tv or surfing the net is way more painful  then riding a bike around in some fresh air and going through some unforgettable moments, good and rough that will stick with one for a very longtime.

I can’t wait to get out there in the California forests for a day with some of the Worlds legendary 24 hour riders such as Tinker Juarez and the reigning World Champ Jason English from Australia who has been undefeated over the past 5 years and seems to have this thing down to a science.

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Results : www.timeyourrace.com

Huge thanks to Kona Bicycles for hiring Dave for the weekend and making this trip happen.

 

Over and out!

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Costa Rica- Rincon de La Vieja 100 Miler

IMG_0621The Rincon de la Vieja is an adventurous 100 mile mountain bike race circumnavigating an active Volcano in Northern Costa Rica.    The land surrounding the race is a tourist haven filled with hot springs, waterfalls, zip lines, tubing, horseback riding and other types of adventure ecotourism.  We were there to race though so after a couple of relaxing days at  Borinquen Resort tucked away on the western flanks of the Volcano it was time for bussiness.  The night before the big show I headed to race headquarters at Hacienda Guachipelin resort to focus on the task at hand.  The 3 year old event  is now part of the USA’s NUE (National Ultra Endurance) series and attracted over 550 racers from North and Central America this year.

1As far as bike racing goes this is what it’s all about with adventure, sightseeing, stiff competition, a laid back atmosphere and an unforgettable experience racing through one of the Worlds most extreme varied environments.  Racing in places like North America and Europe is generally pretty tame but down here in Costa Rica there is a wild side to it!

The adventure started getting to Costa Rica as the flight required an overnight in Atlanta Georgia.  Getting in at midnight with the next flight at 9am left little time to find a hotel  so I searched out a place to camp for the night and opted for the parking garage at the inteMallik Police Comedy copy(1)rnational airport.  Finding a spot between two concrete walls made a tight but quiet place to sleep until the Atlanta Police Department found me.  “Wake up sleeping beauty this is a parking lot not a bunk house!”  Looking up to see a large angry black policeman starring down at me was a bit of a jolt.  After some negotiations he let me on my way and soon I was sky high nearing Paradise!

Race day started way too early Saturday morning at 5:30 am.  The sun was smarter then us and wasn’t even up at this time.    Someones needs to make a rule on how early these things can start as 4 am is a good time for dreams not alarm clocks!   After eating half a rice cake for breakfast it was off to the line where we had a neutral start climbing up to the base of Rincon volcano before the race kicked off with a sprint for one of the 2 single track sections of the day. This was followed with 5 km of fast trail through a dry forest back towards the start line before heading out on a series of rolling hills.  andreusvargas_leadadventuremedia265

The race started nicely until I dropped my chain in the single track descent, bending a few links as it got tangled in my pedal.  Untangling the knot and then chasing hard for the next 30 minutes with skipping gears I finally caught back up to the lead group of 20 as they went over some “rolling hills”.  These rollers were not rollers at all but rather vertical walls up 500 m-1 km climbs on 20% + roads which were so steep they had to pave them. Once I caught up I  considered stopping to brake and re fix my chain but would’ve surely lost the lead group for good so tried to bend it back with my hands whenever the pace slowed a little.    Usually you try to pace yourself during the first part of 100 mile race but between the relentless hills and trying to fix the chain it was a hard start to the day!

After the first feed zone 25 miles in we road off the dusty roads through open pastureland and straight into a wall of Jungle.   Suddenly the ground was slick and muddy, the sun was blocked out from the thick canopy above and the humidity shot straight through the roof with a drizzle of  rain to cap it off. TJoseAndresVargas_RVC2015539here were Toucans and other colourful birds squaking and lots of strange rustling in the dense foliage.  Fluorescent blue Morpho butterflies floated about against the dark green back drop and looked like something straight out of Avatar. Some racers towards the back of the race even captured a Cougar on camera. This was the wild side of Costa Rica we all dreamt about

It’s always an adventure racing in the Jungle but it’s a different beast which is hard to tame.  I’m not sure if its the humidity or the fact I know little about it but I tend to focus more energy on staying alive then riding.  The big animals generally stay away but there were some crazy insects in there which thought us riders were a smorgasbord.   Eventually we popped back into an open road now covered in mud and with some bloody insect bites.  The next 2 hours were spent pedaling through the wet Northwestern side of the Rincon Volcano through patches of jungle and otherwise very thick forest.  This was the heart of the countryside, far away from the tourist trail and a great place to get a glimpse of the real Costa Rican way of life.  The locals back here all seemed really happy although they must be amphibious as it was a real rainforest with drizzle coming down all the time. IMG_0705

As quickly as we road into the wet rainforest environment, we road back into the dry desert side of the Volcano and were soon heading towards the Pacific ocean on dusty roads.  Ripping through the open burnt landscape we took a hard right  back onto some rough quad trails through the El Chizo canyon area. This was a great part of the race and gave me flashbacks to racing the rough mining trails at the Crocodile Trophy in the Australian outback.   Having my Kona Hei Hei full suspension was a nice treat to soak up the rough course!

When we had a chance to glance up the scenery was spectacular with the Pacific far off in the distance and the cloud covered Rincon Volcano towering above.  The race route was now covered in a white dust  which was blinding after the dark jungle and added another element to the adventure.IMG_0890

After finally fixing the skipping chain after 4 attempts to bend the kinks out of it I was starting to crawl back into the race before flatting my front tire heading down a steep pitch just before a rocky stream crossing. This nearly caused a massive pileup as I slid my bike into the ditch to fix the leak.   Luck is a weird thing as it’s very real and sometimes its on your side and other times its not.  American National Marathon Champ Todd Wells was having an even rougher day, leading the race with eventual winner Paolo Montoya before also flatting and then having his cranks come apart virtually ending his race.  The Ticos thus claimed the top 6 positions with myself in 7th and Wells DSQ’d himself as he had received outside help.    I think we both would like to return next year to settle some unfinished bussiness.  That being said the Tico’s are a strong force down here on there home turf and are tough to beat at the best of times.IMG_0911

Overall the race was one of the better organized events I’ve been too with every aspect of it covered. Race founder Juan Carlos and his crew are down to earth and really on the ball.  JC is a bike racer himself so he knows what it takes to pull off a World class race.
The event doubled in size from 2014 and there’s no doubt it will continue this trend into the future if they keep pulling off shows like this.JoseAndresVargas_RVC2015529

Post race we went back into Costa Rica holiday mode as the organizers had all of us foreigners staying at the Hacienda Guachipelin resort at the race start/finish.  This made for a nice atmosphere as we hung out and visited, soaking in the relaxing post race days.  Dining in an open air deck under a large Guanacaste tree made a good place to refuel and arrange plans for the coming days.  The planning worked out good with a surf trip, a waterfall adventure, a swim in a jungle stream and a little bit of easier riding to check out the surrounding area.IMG_0764

Once the other racers took off on Tuesday I hopped on my bike and headed to Santa Rosa National Park in the Northwest corner of the country.  The 6.5 hour (140km) ride had everything from trails, rough dirt roads and the smooth pan am highway as it lead to the secluded beaches of Playa Naranjo.  The feed zones weren’t quite as great as the fully stocked ones during the race but there were guys selling ice cold coconut waters along the highway and it was also Mango season so there were loads of fruits to pick along the route.  This was the icing on the cake to an already stellar trip to Costa Rica.  The country is a paradise and the Rincon de La Vieja is a perfect way to get a taste of what this heaven has to offer.  I can’t wait to return here for the next round of ecotourism adventure!

PS  Big thanks to my Tico buddy Ronald and wife Angela for the support during both the trip and race as its a long ways from home for a Canadian!JoseAndresVargas_RVC2015503

Leadville 100

13202The Leadville 100 is historically the biggest marathon race in North America with past winners such as Alban Lakata, Todd Wells, Dave Wiens and drug cheats Lance Armstrong and Levi Leipheimer.  The race starts in the the old mining town of Leadville Colorado up at 10 200 feet and heads 50 miles out to the top of the Columbine climb at 13 000 ft and then turns around and backtracks itself to the finish.  Course wise its a road race on mountain bikes with just 1 mile of single track, about 25 miles of pavement and the rest fire road.  What makes this event is the history and the organization which has done wonders in making it a must do which sells out its 1800 spots within minutes of opening registration.

Getting a chance to race Leadville was a nice opportunity so I tried to acclimatize a little by racing the first 3 days of Breck Epic and then resting before the big show.  Arriving in Leadville the day before d-day was an event in itself as the whole town was buzzing with activity.  After getting my start number, and attending a portion of the commercialized pre-race meeting it was off to the woods to get a way from the chaos.  The country up here was great with high alpine meadows flowing forever and 13 000- 14 000 ft mountains towering above.  There was a nice free camp zone near Turquoise lake which had a perfect rock to camp beside.  I had only packed a thermorest and a summer weight sleeping bag for airport sleeping so I went back to town to buy a blanket at the thrift store.  3$ later I was set for the night and headed back to camp. IMG_0579

Thunderstorms rolled through the area throughout the afternoon but thankfully the skies cleared in the evening for a good nights rest.  It was an early morning at 4:45 am as the night chill had sunk into my bones and I awoke shivering.  It was the perfect wake up call as the start gun would be going off bright and early at 6:30am.  The pre-race rituals went to routine, except at the start line when I lined up near the front I got escorted away by a race official and told to line up at the back of the gold start corral with nearly 200 riders in there.  I was crossing my fingers my National Champions jersey would get me close to the other fast riders but no dice.  bazu-6768293 copy

When the pistol went off we had 2 miles of road descent, followed with a couple miles of flat before hitting the first climb in which the early race selections would be made.  Starting 200th is a lot harder then it sounds and by the time we got rolling I was a long ways back from the Team Ergon Train setting the pace at the front.  Sprinting like it was a World cup I caught the lead group just before the climb, and according to strava set a new record for this first part of the course.  The problem was the boys charged up the next hill as soon as I joined them and I couldn’t match the pace and thus missed the train with the 6 terminators (Lakata, Hynek, Bishop, Nissen, Sauser and Wells)

I was bummed to miss this as that was the race.  Demoralized I settled into a chase group of 20 or so riders for a long day ahead. Then the whole day changed when we passed Todd Wells fixing a flat tire.  One mans bad luck is another mans good luck somedays.  I knew once he came back through it was a chance to save the day and try to catch his wheel and work with him.  He caught us near the top of the power line descent and nearly 10 riders hopped on his wheel.  One sketchy guy from Tokyo Joes, cut me off into the woods and I lost some time. I would’ve love to jersey this Latino but there was not time.   With adrenaline rushing I got back on and went to my limit passing all 10 of those riders on the rough descent and closed within seconds of Wells before sprinting up the first climb off the hill to catch his wheel.  My mom wouldn’t of been proud of the risks I took on this descent but there are times you gotta let it all go.01

The next 30 miles would be spent riding with a possessed Todd Wells all decked out with aero gear including road aero bars.  He did 75 % of the work, I did what I could and we managed to keep the gap to the lead 5 to around 4 minutes.    Going through the feed zone at twin lakes was a madhouse.  There were a thousand people there all looking for there racers to feed.  Luckily my friend Peter Butt and teammates Sneddon and Wicks were feeding me and they did a great job standing out and passing off bottles as we cruised by.  Soon after we hit the 10 km Columbine climb where Wells would slowly ride away from me.  bazu-6767784 copy

Settling into a good tempo things were going alright before my bike started to skip gears.  Unable to figure out what the problem was I struggled to keep going to the Columbine turnaround near 13 000 ft.  From here it was the sketchiest part of the race as we descend back down the same climb only with 1800 other riders still riding up it.  There were blown bikers all over the road but thankfully all crashes were averted.  Off the kamikaze descent there were about 8 km to the twin lakes feed zone.  I barely made it as my bike was now skipping gears all over the place and nearly unrideable.  In the feed zone we swapped wheels, checked the hanger, checked the chain and finally determined the rear shifter cable was frayed and ready to snap.   Our friend Damo was there and he put a new cable in my bike in a flash and after a 10 min + pit stop it was back on the road, now in 20th place or so with 40 miles to go.

It was a good test of spirit to keep fighting as the race was all but over so I tried to refocus my energy on beating the Canadian record at Leadville.  Life was alright until we hit the power line ascent which was a kick in the head after 5.5 hours of racing as it shot straight up.  I was ready to get off and walk but a girl showing some nice cleavage kept me motivated for a bit.  Once she was out of sight I was ready to walk but then caught glimpse of my friends from New Zealand and Australia a bit farther up the climb and I couldn’t consider walking the only place they were watching so I kept pushing over the cadence at 30 rpm.bazu-6778439 copy

Getting over this climb was a bastard, then we had a fast road descent before one final road climb.  This was turning into a real humdinger of a ride and very European with its lack of trail.  Still having a real shot at the Canadian Record of 6:54 I dropped my ri
ding buddies and neared the top 10 again but on the last descent slashed my rear tire.  Argh, it was a gaping whole I wasn’t sure I could fix.  Eating 3 gels so I could use there wrappers as patches, and putting my sunglass case in for good measure I managed to get a tube in there and continued on.  Now there was a 30-45 minute time limit on my day as once the gels ran through the system there would be no fuel left to save a massive meltdown.  The last bit of race went by with no more bad luck and I got to the finish line, 7 hours after starting and out sprinted a couple guys to claim 15th.

Leadville was a good experience, it’s a big scene but overall a great day out on the bike with the town and its surroundings being the highlight of it all.  Without the mechanicals I think sub 6:30 would’ve been doable but that will have to wait for another time.  Rincon-de-la-Vieja-Challenge-logo

This night my teammates headed off to Denver to fly home while I headed to Boulder with my old high school friend Jana to stay with her and her husband Kent.  It was a nice couple days of relaxing and re supplying before heading off to Costa Rica.  It was a last minute decision to head south to race the 100 mile Rincon De La Vieja MTB challenge but I figured I was already half way down there so might as well giver a go!logo_12