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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
Phil Gaimon (Garmin-Sharp): A
Gaimon won stage 1, his first day racing in a Garmin jersey, so by any measure, the Tour de San Luis was a success. That win didn’t come without controversy, though; with 20km remaining on stage 1, Gaimon momentarily followed a pair of motos off course, causing two of his breakaway companions, including UnitedHealthcare’s Marc de Maar, to crash. Gaimon and Emiliano Contreras (Argentina) did not wait around, and Gaimon took the stage win in Villa Mercedes; de Maar finished 1:17 down on the stage, a bit worse for the wear. Gaimon’s GC advantage was a comfortable 4:35 over the heavy hitters, and when he held his own on the stage 2 finish of Mirador de el Potrero, it seemed possible that he might be able to hold it throughout the week.
But Gaimon faltered on the Alto el Amago on stage 4, losing over four minutes to Quintana, narrowly holding onto his race lead by just four seconds. Gaimon put in a respectable time trial on Friday in San Luis, ceding 30 seconds to Quintana over 19km, and then rose to the occasion on the Mirador del Sol climb on stage 6, losing only 10 seconds to the stage winner, Julian Arredondo, to preserve his second overall position.
Garmin team manager Jonathan Vaughters sent out a tweet after Gaimon’s ride on Saturday, “While it was awesome that @philgaimon won a stage and held the lead, today’s result means more to me. It shows long term talent is there.”
(Race note: Marc de Maar ended the race in seventh overall, 3:44 behind Quintana, 3:01 behind Gaimon, and 1:42 behind third-place finisher Sergio Godoy of San Luis Somos Todos. Considering that the UnitedHealthcare rider lost 1:17 to Gaimon on stage 1 after the crash, and also expended unquantifiable energy due to minor injuries sustained in the crash, it’s anyone’s guess whether or not the mishap cost de Maar a spot on the final podium; the difference to Godoy was 37 seconds.)
Quote: “First off, I got lucky on the first day. Putting yourself in a position to get lucky, I’ll give myself some points for that. When you have a teammate in the break, you have to trust him to win, in the unlikely event that the break stays away, and I pulled that off. After that, I had the one good climb, and then a few not-so-good days, including stage 4, when Nairo killed everyone, that was rough. The climb on stage 6 was a good performance. That was good for me, mentally, to know that it wasn’t entirely luck that I got a result here. I’ve got something going on.”
Upcoming races: Mallorca Challenge, Three Days of West Flanders, Volta a Catalunya
Peter Stetina (BMC Racing): B+
In his first race wearing BMC colors, the former Garmin rider was consistent throughout, even after suffering from stomach issues that plagued several foreign riders. Stetina finished second on Mirador de el Potrero on stage 2, just out-sprinted at the line by stage winner Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing). Stetina went on to place seventh atop Alto de Amago on stage 4 and 18th on the climb up Mirador del Sol on stage 6. He finished the race eighth overall, 3:51 down.
Quote: “I’m very happy to almost have won stage 2, especially as I came here just to find race legs and tune up for later this spring. A top 10 on GC ain’t a bad start to the season either. My power has deteriorated a lot throughout the week. I’m still suffering bowel issues, so we think I’m not absorbing all the calories and nutrients I should be. I’ll get it checked out when I get home on Tuesday.”
Upcoming races: Paris-Nice, Volta a Catalunya, Amgen Tour of California
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing): B
Phinney came to San Luis intent on winning the stage 5 time trial. He was the overwhelming favorite, citing only Movistar’s Adriano Malori, the 2011 Italian national TT champion, as his chief competition. Phinney rode well on the stage, however he was under-geared and found himself spinning out on a long downhill-tailwind section. That proved to be the difference, as Phinney finished three seconds short of Malori, who took the stage win. Though he had been unable to shift into his 11-tooth cog — therefore maxed out at 54-12 — Phinney blamed himself for not choosing a 55- or even 56-tooth chainring.
Quote: “I definitely wanted to win the time trial…. I was sick earlier in the week, and I’m still trying to get on track. It’s funny that this is going to be one of the hardest races of the year, and it’s in January. It’s a bit of a shock to the system. My power was there in the time trial, and my pacing strategy was good. Not having those extra gears on the [downhill section] cost me a few seconds. Whether that cost me the win, we’ll never know, but it was pretty disappointing overall.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai, Tour of the Mediterranean, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Paris-Nice, the cobblestone classics
Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp): B
Danielson came to San Luis fit and prepared to race for a stage win, and perhaps the overall. However that plan changed dramatically on the first stage, when his teammate Phil Gaimon won the stage and took a four-minute lead in the general classification. After Garmin climber Janier Acevedo abandoned the race with illness, it was up to Danielson alone to shepherd his new teammate up the summit finishes on Alto de Amago and Mirador del Sol. Danielson did his job admirably, and though Gaimon faltered on the stage 4 climb, the former race leader held on to his second-place GC finish on stage 6, hugging Danielson at the finish line and thanking him for sacrificing any shot at a stage win in order to help save Gaimon’s podium dream.
Quote: “It was a really magical experience to be there with Phil, especially on Mirador del Sol (on stage 6). He did what I knew he could do, and that’s a life-changing experience, to truly be at the front of the race and be climbing with guys like Quintana. I rewind to December of 2012, climbing up Mt. Lemmon [in Tucson, Arizona] with Phil , in training, and saying, ‘Dude, if you can do this in the Tour of California this year, you will finish on the podium,’ and he was like, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ Fast-forward to Saturday on the climb, with 1km to go, I said to him, ‘Remember what I told you last December? This is what you can do.’ I felt awesome yesterday, and I told him, ‘I could win the stage today, but this one of the experiences that is why I am in cycling. I’m going to finish next to you, just like we did on Mt. Lemmon all last year.’ It was really cool and rewarding, I was able to bring him back one more time, with 200 meters to go. It was a really awesome experience for me.”
Upcoming races: Volta a Catalunya, Pais Vasco, Amgen Tour of California
Lucas Euser (UnitedHealthcare): B
A fifth-place finish on the hardest climb of the race, Alto de Amago, was a breakthrough ride for the American climber; he placed 1:45 behind Quintana on the stage. Euser finished the race 13th overall, 6:09 behind Quintana.
Quote: “The Tour of San Luis is a great way to start the season. I entered the race more focused and with confidence, and it played out well. It wasn’t fun watching riders at the end of stage 4 hang on to cars to improve their rankings. As many on Twitter said, cheating is cheating. What’s great is being part of a team that demands ethical and fair sport. I can’t wait to see how the year unfolds.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Oman, Classic Sud Ardèche, La Drôme Classic, GP Città di Camaiore, Roma Maxima, Strade Bianche, Milano-Sanremo.
Larry Warbasse (BMC Racing): B
The 23-year-old former University of Michigan student finished just off the podium on the stage 5 time trial in fourth place, 48 seconds behind stage winner Adriano Malori. The following day, Warbasse made it into the stage 6 breakaway, which was caught at the base of the day’s final climb. He finished the race in 37th place.
Quote: “I would have to say I’m happy to have had a good time trial, as the first four days were rough in the brutal heat. I wasn’t adapted enough to handle the high temperatures in January, which came as a bit of a surprise to me, and a shock to my body. I would have liked to have a solid GC result, but I’m content to not leave entirely empty-handed. Riding here has gotten me excited about the rest of the season.”
Upcoming races: Tour of the Mediterranean, Classic Sud Ardèche, La Drôme Classic, Strade Bianche, Roma Maxima, Volta a Catalunya
Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Sharp): C+
Farrar finished fourth on the stage 3 finish, and was hit by a team car in the caravan on stage 6. He came through 21st on the uphill sprint finish on stage 7.
Quote: “My goal coming here was to win a stage. I saw three opportunities. The first stage ended up not being a sprint. The [third] stage I ran fourth, which wasn’t a win, but I felt good. And [after being hit by a car], I don’t feel totally awesome. But as far as fitness goes, I definitely feel where I’m right where I wanted to be. I feel like I am sprinting well, and as strong as I wanted to be in January.”
Upcoming races: Tour of Dubai, the cobblestone classics, Giro d’Italia