Francesco Chicchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) drew first blood in a wet and wild first stage at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina.
Rain and hail pelted the peloton, prompting the bunch to stop at one point in the opening kilometers, before the sprinters took over to win the 188km stage from San Luis and Villa Mercedes.
Chicchi out-kicked hometown hero JJ Haedo (Saxo Bank) to claim the stage and the race leader’s jersey of the weeklong race in South America. Mauro Richeze, racing for the Argentine national team, crossed the line third.
A three-man breakaway pulled clear early and built up a gap topping 10 minutes in the rolling course before the sprinter teams, led by Quick Step, Liquigas-Cannondale and Saxo Bank, opened the chase.
Jake Keough crossed the line ninth for UnitedHealthcare.
With time bonuses, Chicchi takes a four-second lead to Haedo, with Richeze third at six seconds back.
The sixth edition of the San Luis tour continues Tuesday with the 147km second stage from Fraga to Juana Koslay.
Most of the GC favorites finished in the main bunch, with Alberto Contador saying at the line that the conditions were horrendous.
“We came looking for heat and sun, and we’ve found this: cold and rain. We stopped for the hail, that fell like stones,” Contador said at the line. “I punctured with about 40km to go, and it cost me a little to get back, and then later we took responsibility. The peloton got cut, I don’t know who got left behind, but the sensations have been good.”