JUANA KOSLEY, Argentina (VN) — Is it too early to say that, after only three stages, the general classification of the seven-stage Tour de San Luís has already been decided?
This is professional bike racing, in South America, in January, so of course it is too early.
However, given the outcomes of the first three stages, Garmin-Sharp’s Phil Gaimon may just be too far ahead, too strong a climber, and too well supported by his Garmin teammates, for any rider to truly challenge his overall lead.
The beneficiary of a stalemate in the peloton on stage 1, when no teams were willing to aid Omega Pharma-Quick Step in the chase of a five-man breakaway, Gaimon took a 4:35 lead over the rest of the GC contenders on Monday in Villa Mercedes.
On Tuesday, Gaimon lost less than 20 seconds to a handful of riders on the slopes of Mirador del Potrero de los Funes, and finished ahead of world-class climbers like Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). On Wednesday, a flat but windy sprint stage, ended in a bunch sprint, leaving the top of the GC unchanged.
Four stages remain, including a flat 19-kilometer time trial and two more summit finishes.
Saturday’s stage 6, from Las Chacras to the summit finish of Mirador del Sol, is the queen stage of the race, at 184km.
Gaimon has proven that he is no slouch on the climbs, and he’s more than capable against the clock as well, with time trial victories to his name at U.S. domestic stage races such as the Redlands Classic, Merco Classic, and San Dimas Stage Race.
Heading into stage 4, Gaimon holds advantages of 1:47 over Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare) and 3:56 over third-placed Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge). His gap over GC threats Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing) is 4:19.
For comparison’s sake, here’s a look at the three summit finishes of this year’s race.
Stage 2 (Mirador del Potrero de los Funes): 4.8km; 1,050 vertical feet; 6.7% average gradient
Stage 4 (Alto de Al Amago): 10.5km; 2,591 vertical feet; 7.2% average gradient
Stage 6 (Mirador del Sol): 7km; 1,837 vertical feet; 8.75% average gradient
Gaimon holds a 1:47 lead, and only lost 20 seconds on the first climb. Then again, Thursday’s climb is over twice as long, over twice as high, and is steeper. However, Gaimon could stand to lose two minutes on each summit finish and still win the race; this all depends on his ability to defend his lead, relative to other climbers, in Friday’s time trial.
Of course anything can happen. A puncture. A crash. A mechanical. Crosswinds. A bonk. A bad day in the heat. This is pro bike racing.
So we asked several riders, including de Maar and Gaimon, the question: Is it too early to say that, after only two stages, the general classification of the Tour de San Luís has already been decided? Their answers, which varied, follow below.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): Is the overall win decided? I think so. Yesterday more or less decided the classification, [Gaimon] stayed with the favorites. Of course the penultimate stage, and the [stage 5] time trial, will decide it. It’s not for sure decided, yesterday he lost 20 seconds on a shorter, easier climb. But he’s got a good advantage. We will see.
Peter Stetina (BMC Racing): Garmin’s got to control for a lot of days in the heat to come. [Gaimon's] looking good; he looks lean. But I know there are a lot of guys that are hungry. You saw how big that finish group [on Mirador del Potrero de los Funes] was. The climbs to come are steeper and longer.
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step): I think he’s got a good shot. But the climbs are very hard. Three years ago we did [Thursday’s climb up Alto de Al Amago] in the middle of the stage. It’s a really hard climb. But he looks like a good rider; I don’t know him, it’s my first time riding with him. He’s looking good, but it will be hard.
Ben Jacques-Maynes (Jamis-Hagens Berman): I think [stage 2] showed the style of racing the pro teams want to have here, and I have a feeling the GC is all but over. Garmin showed they are strong enough, and barring an accident or stomach bug, they should have the manpower to bring it home. Don’t discount the home team however; there will be plenty of locals [Argentines] hunting stages, jerseys, etc.
Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare): There are two brutal hard climbs and a time trial. The reason we come back each and every day is because nothing in cycling is predictable.
Sebastien Alexandre (Team director, Jamis-Hagens Berman): The only way I believe he can lose the race is if some of the WorldTour teams decide to race on the flat part of the stages. I know how good of a climber Phil is, so if anyone waits until the climbs to reduce that gap; it will not happen. Especially with the team he has here. But if the teams decide to really race, it will be very hard for the other five [Garmin] boys to control the race.
Luca Paolini (Katusha): It’s not over. The big climbers will come forward on the next two climbing stages. The gaps could change considerably.
Christian Meier (Orica-GreenEdge): It’s definitely not over. A day like today, with a lot of wind, a lot of things could happen. Just like on the first day. You never really know exactly which team has what intentions in the race, and maybe wants to cause a little trouble in the wind. Realistically, you see some of the Colombians, and how quickly they go on the climbs, and we have longer climbs to come, they can take some time back. I don’t think it’s over until the last day. I think there could still be some shakeups.
Peter Sagan (Cannondale): I don’t know. We have two more climbing finishes. It depends on the ambitions of the other teams.
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing): No, it’s too early to say it’s over. The climbs that are coming up are two, or three, times longer than [Mirador del Potrero de los Funes]. Plus, there’s the heat to deal with. It’s his race to lose, but I think everybody is going to be trying to take it out of him on the climbing stages. He’ll have a good time trial, but … it’s going to be exciting.
Marc de Maar (UnitedHealthcare): It’s maybe not wide open any longer, but anything is still possible. The race is not done yet. Tomorrow is going to be a big climb, and you can see there is a lot of wind. The race isn’t over until we are done racing. Anything is still possible. Phil will really need to focus. There’s a time trial coming up, and a few hard stages. I wouldn’t be too sure.
Phil Gaimon (Garmin-Sharp): I feel better [about winning the overall] after the first climb than I did on Monday, and I feel way better about it than I did before the race started. Yeah, I think we can pull this off.