SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — The race may be classified as a mere 2.1, but with the likes of Nairo Quintana, Vincenzo Nibali, and Peter Sagan in attendance, the Tour de San Luis is a worthy season opener for some of cycling’s biggest names. While the UCI WorldTour officially kicks off at the Tour Down Under this week, there will be plenty of action in central Argentina as well.
A diverse course should make for an interesting race, and so too should the always-intriguing dynamic that plays out as WorldTour megastars take on some of South America’s best Continental and Pro Continental riders on their home turf. And if that’s not enough to sell you on the idea of checking out the Tour de San Luis, there’s always the dance music the race has been known to blast in the background of its official broadcast — a unique viewing experience, to say the least.
For the first time in its history, the Tour de San Luis will open with a team time trial. Twenty-one kilometers is not long for a team chrono, but in a weeklong race, even a short TTT is bound to have big GC implications.
The opening stage is followed by two days that should be of interest to riders in pursuit of stage victories. Stage 2 will almost certainly be one for the sprinters, and stage 3 will likely favor someone with a decent finishing kick who can also handle a late-race, second-category climb.
The GC riders will square off in earnest in stage 4. The first-category Alto del Amago — about 10.5km at an average gradient over seven percent — will put the uphill specialists to the test. Quintana took the stage win on the climb in 2014 and went on to claim the overall title, and Daniel Diaz won the stage there en route to his own GC victory in 2015, ahead of Quintana.
A rolling fifth stage will have the aggressive types hoping to fight off the sprint trains for the chance at a stage win, while the GC riders will likely keep their powder dry for a tough day to come. The stage 6 finale at Filo Sierras Comechingones resembles the steps of a staircase laid out over 17.5km, with three steep stretches separated by brief moments of respite. The average gradient comes out to 7.8 percent.
After the GC riders battle in the mountains, the sprinters will have one more day to shine in the seventh and final stage, a mostly flat day finishing in the city of San Luis.
The GC battle
It’s never easy to predict which of the WorldTour stars are targeting actual results in San Luis, but Quintana has been on the podium both times he’s raced here, and there’s reason to expect more success from the Movistar rider this year. He’ll likely come out of the opening TTT in good shape, and the mountain stages will give him plenty of pitch to work with. He’s not going to be on July form, but if the past few years are any indication, he should put up a fight. Daniel Moreno will be a nice alternative, if necessary, for the Spanish squad.
Astana’s Nibali is another former winner and WorldTour star in attendance — though his motivations are less clear. Since his 2010 victory, Nibali’s results in San Luis have gotten worse every year he’s returned. Keep an eye on the early goings to see whether Nibali is really here to race. If not, promising up-and-comer Miguel Ángel López could get involved in the GC conversation.
Tinkoff’s Rafal Majka, Ag2r La Mondiale’s Jean-Christophe Péraud, and Cannonade’s Andrew Talansky are other big-time GC names making their starts on unknown form. Talansky’s teammate Phil Gaimon was actually second in the race in 2014 thanks to an impressive breakaway stage win early on. That seems unlikely to reoccur, but Gaimon can’t be counted out in a race where whacky things tend to happen.
For the WorldTour stars on questionable form, taking on defending champion Diaz won’t be easy. Motivation won’t be much of an issue for the two-time race winner riding in his home country. He’s also moved up to the Pro Continental level with Delko-Marseille for 2016. For Diaz, the biggest challenge could be making it through the TTT without losing too much ground. If he can limit his losses to the WorldTeams, his climbing legs might put him in the running for win No. 3.
Last year’s runner-up Rodolfo Torres is one to watch as well, now riding for Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec after the dissolution of Team Colombia. Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s Eduardo Sepulveda and the San Luis Somos Todos trio of Sergio Godoy, Alfredo Lucero, and Enzo Moyano are other strong GC bets likely to be giving this race 100 percent.
The stage hunters
Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan is the most well-known speedster on the start list and there are days that suit him, but he’ll have his work cut out, trying to take his first win in the rainbow jersey in San Luis. Fernando Gaviria, now with Etixx – Quick-Step, managed to best Mark Cavendish twice in last year’s edition of the race, and he’s certain to figure in the action again in 2016.
Don’t overlook the Italian national squad either — the other national selections in attendance are mostly staffed with guys who ride at the Continental level or lower, but Elia Viviani and Filippo Pozzato of Team Italy didn’t get that memo.
Predicting the overall podium
While it’s always possible that he doesn’t feel like pushing it in January, Quintana has plenty of advantages on his side, and it’s hard to see anyone beating him if he puts his back into it. Diaz will likely be the biggest challenger, given his track record, while Torres has the talent to be in the mix again as well.
Stage 1, January 18: El Durazno to El Durazno – 21km (TTT)
Stage 2, January 19: San Luis to Villa Mercedes – 181.9km
Stage 3, January 20: Potrero de los Funes to La Punta – 131km
Stage 4, January 21: San Luis to Cerro del Amago – 140km
Stage 5, January 22: Renca to Juana Koslay – 168.7km
Stage 6, January 23: La Toma to Filo Sierras Comechingones – 159.5km
Stage 7, January 24: San Luis to San Luis – 119.6km