Entering its eighth edition, Argentina’s Tour de San Luis is attracting some of the biggest names in pro cycling for the January 19-26 season opener.
The UCI 2.1 stage race, which starts in San Luis and ends in Terrazas del Portezuelo, kicks off one day before the WorldTour season opener, the Santos Tour Down Under.
However, many WorldTour stars have opted to start their season in South America at a non-WorldTour event, rather than in Australia.
Among them are Cannondale’s Peter Sagan, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, BMC Racing’s Taylor Phinney, and 2010 San Luis winner Vincenzo Nibali of Astana.
The 2013 edition saw top riders like Mark Cavendish and Alberto Contador win stages, with Sagan twice finishing in the top five in sprints. Argentinean Ricardo Diaz won the 2013 edition by 33 seconds ahead of BMC’s Tejay van Garderen. American Levi Leipheimer won the overall in 2012 ahead of Contador; however, the Spaniard’s result was later stripped.
This year’s edition features seven stages, with three summit finishes.
Quintana will be the marquee name among several renowned Colombian climbers at the race, including Team Colombia’s Fabio Duarte and Miguel Angel Rubiano, winner of the San Luis KOM jersey in 2012, as well as new BMC signing Darwin Atapuma, winner of a summit finish at the Giro del Trentino in 2012, and at the Tour of Poland in 2013.
Joining Nibali will be several riders who will form a key part of Astana’s Tour de France team, including Tanel Kangert, Fredrik Kessiakoff, Alessandro Vanotti, Michele Scarponi and Mikel Landa.
Cannondale riders Damiano Caruso and Moreno Moser will accompany Sagan, who will be targeting the opening stage, with its mostly downhill profile, and the leader’s jersey it brings.
Sagan could see competition on the flatter stages from Colombia’s Leonardo Duque, as well as from Phinney, who will also be targeting the 19.2km stage 5 time trial.
Though he won a junior world TT title in Mexico, San Luis will be Phinney’s first experience racing in South America.
“From what I have heard, the Tour de San Luis is a pretty awesome race and I am excited to get down there,” Phinney said. “I have heard the crowds there are incredible. There is a nice time trial I will be targeting.
“I have never raced in January before so I am really excited to do that. It will be good for me to get an earlier start. I have been training quite hard, quite specifically for almost two months now, so I am looking forward to get back to racing.
“I am in a good place mentally and physically and I am excited to be together with the team in January in a training camp in California in the weeks leading to the Tour de San Luis.”
Also riding for BMC will be Americans Peter Stetina and Larry Warbasse. It will be the first race in BMC colors for Stetina after spending his entire career with Garmin-Sharp.
Quintana, the second overall finisher and KOM winner at the 2013 Tour de France, will be racing alongside his younger brother, Dayer, who has signed with Movistar for 2014. Quintana is expected to arrive in Argentina well adjusted, as he will be coming off Christmas holidays spent in his hometown, just a few hours away from the Argentine region of San Luis.
“It’s a race I’ve never ridden before and I am happy that I can participate in 2014,” Quintana said. “My goals are definitely set further ahead in the season, even if we still haven’t decided which major race I will be riding in this year between the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France.
“In any case, [San Luis] will be a good way for me to get started, because the climate is better than it is in Europe, and I will also get the chance to ride side by side with my brother, who will be riding his first race for Movistar.”
Also riding for Movistar in Argentina will be Andrey Amador, Beñat Intxausti, Fran Ventoso and Adriano Malori.
Veteran Haimar Zubeldia, who has twice been fifth at the Tour de France, will be heading the newly branded Trek Factory Racing team, which is also bringing veteran German sprinter Danilo Hondo.
“This will be my first time at the Tour de San Luis,” said Zubeldia. “I personally asked the sports directors if I could participate in this race, because last year I pulled out from racing early in the season, and also because I think that I’ll like Argentina, seeing as they speak my language.
“It will be hard in terms of the altitude changes and because the race is seven days long, but it will be a good working foundation for the rest of the season. We’re going in with a young squad and it’s going to be my job to bring some experience to the group.”