In a year of international sporting firsts in Costa Rica, the longest-running international sporting event in the country’s history – the Costa Rican International Cycling Tour – began its 12-day trek around the country on Wednesday. The Vuelta, as it is known in Spanish, has been a Costa Rican tradition since 1965. The 45th edition of the race will conclude Dec. 28 when the 98 bikers zip into downtown San José, arriving at the Banco de Costa Rica on Avenida 2.
“The tradition of this race continues to be a great success for Costa Rica,” said Marco Echeverría, general director of the Vuelta, at the opening ceremonies on Wednesday. “As you can see today, there is great support for this event and we expect this to be a spectacular competition among the 10 participating teams.”
Five of the teams are Costa Rican and the other teams hail from Canada, The Netherlands, Guatemala, Colombia and Russia, which is making its first-ever appearance in the competition. Historically, the tour has been dominated by Costa Rica and Colombia, who have provided the winning riders in 27 of the last 28 races.
On Wednesday, hundreds of spectators gathered around the starting line in Tres Ríos, east of San José, to welcome the riders and watch the time trial stage of the competition.
For the time trial stage, riders took off on a 10.6 kilometer loop that swung around the Hipermás grocery store in Tres Ríos, ran past the Terramall on the Cartago highway, and routed the riders back into downtown Tres Ríos. At the conclusion of the time trial, the Costa Rican team sponsored by Banco de Costa Rica (BCR) and Pizza Hut boasted the fastest team time as well as the fastest individual finisher, Fabricio Quirós, who will don the the yellow jersey – which is worn by the winner of each day’s stage of the competition – when the teams depart from San José on day two.
“I’m very happy that I got off to a good start today and helped our team win the time trial,” the 19-year old Quirós said.
“Individual accomplishments are great, but really we are a team and more concentrated on winning as a group.”
Quirós finished ahead of tour favorite and defending champion Gregory Brenes, who was clocked with the second fastest time of the BCR-Pizza Hut team. Brenes, perhaps the most popular racer in the competition, applauded his teammate and said Quiros’ win is representative of this year’s competition.
“This year is open for anybody,” he said. “There are tons of talented racers and teams from different countries. All we can do is stay relaxed and remain concentrated throughout all the stages.”
The second stage of the race left Thursday (yesterday) from the Teletica Canal 7 building near La Sabana Park, west of San José, to wind northeast through the Zurquí tunnel and Braulio Carillo National Park, before moving north and west to conclude in San Carlos. The 150-km trek will include two sprints and a mountain ascent.
During the course of the next week and a half, the bikers will ride a total of 1,308 km throughout the country. Echeverría said that the seventh day of the competition, Tuesday, Dec. 22, will include the most challenging stretch of terrain.
On that day, the trek will begin in the Caribbean slope town of Guápiles and hit its eastern-most point in Siquirres and then turn back to the west through Turrialba before concluding in Oreamuno, near Cartago, east of San José. Much of the 144 km to be traveled on day seven will be on mountainous terrain.
“The mountain stages are really where you see the leaders separate themselves from the rest of the group,” Echeverría said. “That is the most challenging phase of the race, and it is where the best teams and racers show what they are made of.”
The tour is the third major international sporting event to arrive in Costa Rica this year. In August, Playa Hermosa and Jacó, on the central Pacific, hosted the World Surfing Games, and, in November, the Jacques Vabre Transat international sailboat race ended at the Caribbean port city of Limón.