SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — Six of the biggest stars in pro cycling, as well as the best riders in South America and a handful of top Americans, gathered in San Luis, Argentina, last week to contest the biggest race on the continent.
Riders came to San Luis with different fitness, and different objectives. For some, the race was little more than early-season training in a new locale. For others, it was the most important race of the year. Some came racing for the first time on a new squad, some came hoping to produce a result that might help garner a wildcard invitation down the road.
Below, we rate these riders and provide some indication of what their performances will mean at the races that matter most.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar): A+
The young Colombian made it a point to arrive at the start of the most important race in South America in top shape. So much, in fact, that after winning at the summit of Alto el Amago, he said he would likely need to “slow down” his training, particularly as team management still has not told him whether he’ll be racing at the Giro d’Italia or the Tour de France. One thing is clear: On the heels of last year’s Tour performance, and his strength shown in Argentina, he will be an overall contender at either race. Quintana was in a league of his own on the stage 4 climb up Alto de Amagao, attacking from the bottom of the 10-kilometer ascent and winning alone by nearly a minute. He took back 4:15 on race leader Phil Gaimon (Garmin-Sharp) and put another 30 seconds into Gaimon the following day on a flat and windy 19km time trial. Once he was in the race lead, it was clear he wouldn’t lose it on stage 6, where Quintana rode conservatively and eased up in the final 500 meters, allowing compatriot Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) to take the stage win.
Quote: “It’s an important win when it comes to motivation for the rest of the year. I didn’t plan any specific training for the beginning of the season, though we had expected to start a bit stronger than last year. I had no major problems during my preparations and I felt really good throughout the race.”
Upcoming races: Vuelta a Andalucía, Volta a Catalunya, Tour of Romandie
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quick Step): B
The big Belgian came to Argentina trim and tan, and with the intent on winning a stage. That opportunity was negated in stage 1, when every team in the peloton looked to Boonen’s Omega Pharma squad to chase down the day’s breakaway. Omega Pharma refused, and the time gap ballooned to 10 minutes; it would not be brought back before the finish. The following day, with a summit finish at Mirador de el Potrero, Boonen jumped onto the front of the peloton and took a hard pull for 10km leading into the climb; he then finished 47th on the 4.8km climb, just 2:42 off the stage winner. With Mark Cavendish providing leadout, Boonen aimed for a sprint victory in stage 3 in Juana Koslay, but he came around Cavendish too early into a headwind, and had to settle for third. On the stage 5 time trial, a short and flat 19km out-and-back, Boonen finished seventh, 57 seconds behind winner Adriano Malori of Movistar. Stage 7, into Terrazas del Portezuelo, was Boonen’s final opportunity for a stage win; however, he finished ninth behind stage winner Sacha Modolo (Lampre-Merida), and was clearly angry at the finish.
Quote: “For me, [Tour de San Luis] is probably the nicest race to start the season with, compared to something like the Tour of Qatar, here you have some climbs, some uphill finishes, some field sprints, it’s more variable racing. I had a good winter. I wasn’t sick at all. I had good training. I’ll be ready for the classics this year.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Qatar, Tour of Oman, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Paris-Nice, Milano–Sanremo
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step): B
Cavendish returned to San Luis seeking form, and hoping to help teammate Tom Boonen bag a victory. The first, he accomplished; the second, he did not. It didn’t help matters that teammate Alessandro Petacchi left the race with a stomach illness after an hour of the opening stage.
Quote: “I came last year as a replacement for Tom [Boonen] because he was sick. I enjoyed it, so much that I wanted to come again. To be fair, I wanted an easy start to the year. It’s good to keep you motivated over Christmas, knowing you’ll be racing, you don’t want to suffer too much. It’s been good to race with Tom, we didn’t race together too much last year. We were always here to sprint for Tom. It was a shame to lose Alessandro, just to get into the swing of things. We came here, we wanted to win, we had the ability to win, but it was really about to get the rhythm into our legs. We didn’t come here to test the leadout, we came here to get the form.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai. “I’m really lucky that Omega Pharma-Quick Step, they’ve invested the money, not just into me and my leadout, but they’ve invested the time and effort into really leaving my race program open, so we can look at it in quite short terms until the Tour de France. It’s quite open, and I’m lucky that I’m on a team that’s willing to do that. So I don’t really know my race program. We’ve got a rough outline, but it’s really quite open depending on how I feel throughout the year. I don’t know much past Dubai.”
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha): C+
Though he said he was only in Argentina for training, with an eye on the Giro d’Italia, Rodriguez put in a hard effort on the stage 6 summit finish, placing 11th, 30 seconds behind stage winner Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing). Other than that, “Purito” maintained a low profile, though he was, along with Quintana, one of the biggest star attractions for the Spanish-speaking fans.
Quote: “I came for training. It made no sense to try to win a stage; I wasn’t ready for it. I have bigger goals for later in the season.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai, Tour of Oman, Volta Catalunya, Amstel Gold Race, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Giro d’Italia
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana): C
The Giro d’Italia champion did not contest the climbs; his best finish was actually in the 19.2km stage 5 time trial, in which he finished 14th. He went down in a crash on stage 6 and though he finished the stage, he complained about tenderness around his ribs. The injury may keep him out of the Tour of Dubai (February 5-8).
Quote: “I’m more relaxed when I’m at the races than when I’m at home because at home people call or invite you here and there. I have to only think about starting the season well, not to put on too many kilograms, because when we are near the big races it can come too difficult.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai, Paris-Nice, Milano-Sanremo, Critérium International, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Liège–Bastogne–Liège
Peter Sagan (Cannondale): C
Why was Sagan in Argentina? The fact that the Cannondale team was spotted going on training rides after stages 1 and 2 is a testament to its purpose for traveling long distances to a warmer climate. (The fact that Sagan’s agent and close friend, Giovanni Lombardi, helps organize the event for the San Luis Province likely contributed as well.) Sagan laid low throughout the week, though he jumped into the action on the uphill sprint on Sunday — his 24th birthday — finishing a fairly distant second to Sacha Modolo (Lampre).
Quote: “It was very good for training. I think every day I felt better. For me it was good preparation.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai, Tour of Oman, Milano-Sanremo