Costa Rica's La Ruta de Los Conquistadores is touted as one of the hardest mountain-bike races in the world, with cyclists riding 300 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea and climbing a total of 39,000 vertical feet in four days. In 2009, Alex Grant finished a close second in the elite international field, tying the best showing by an American in the race's 19-year history. Last year he did it again. But the 31-year-old Grant, who balances training with his 50-hour-a-week work schedule as a traveling sales rep for Shimano and Pearl Izumi (he drives 30,000 miles a year), had already proven he could ride with the best. At the 2009 Leadville Trail 100, he hung with the pros in the lead pack (including a guy named Lance) for 40 miles, eventually finishing fourth. Last year, in a much stronger field, he finished eighth.
HIS SECRET: "I like to say that my job is my secret: it forces me off the bike so I can rest. When pros finish, they're napping and getting massages. I have to be able to rest like a pro. I ride four or five days a week, but then I'll take two off and maybe fit in an hour ride the following day. Twelve hours a week on the bike is plenty. A lot of people take racing too seriously, and then they're mentally drained and not motivated to ride hard. That takes more of a toll than not being physically ready. I'm not going to chintz on the ice cream or hold the cheese on my burrito. I maintain perspective. And nothing makes me want to thrash on the pedals like a bunch of pent-up energy from a long week at work."
ON ALEX: Live short-sleeve striped piqué polo by Lacoste ($88; lacoste.com); Club fleece hoodie by J.Crew ($60; jcrew.com); 514 Slim Straight jeans by Levi's Water <Less ($60; levi.com); Shunami sneakers by Sanuk ($65; sanuk.com); Chrono Classic watch by Victorinox Swiss Army ($475; victorinox.com).