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SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — The Tour de San Luis is helping move Argentina’s cycling in the right direction, says J.J. Haedo.
The Jamis-Hagens Berman sprinter, who is the race’s most successful rider, returned home to race the eighth edition this week.
“It’s important not just for cycling here but to allow everyone in the area and on TV to get a taste. They see the big races on TV but now they can see it here in Argentina,” the soft-spoken Haedo told VeloNews. “Plus, it’s good for people around the world to watch and see what’s going on on the other side of the world.”
Haedo, who has won stages in the Vuelta a España, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Critérium du Dauphiné, holds a record for placings in his home tour: three stage wins and three second places.
He began his career as a track sprinter in a nation that has a long history on the boards, including world and Olympic medals. But it is this road race that is now helping push cycling forward.
“You can see, the big professionals like to start their seasons here,” said Claudio Javier Poggi, who presides over the San Luis province; his government pays for the seven-day stage race.
“Look what the race has done for San Luis. Now we have our own third-division team, Somos Todos. Buenos Aires now created its own third team as well.”
This year, Poggi brought in such stars as Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and the man who would take the overall title, Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The exposure could be good for the sport, says Haedo.
“Maybe some sponsors will get excited because they are on TV for a week and they will want to build second-division teams. That’s a good way to start a new team,” Haedo said.
“We need to have sponsors come onboard and believe in the sport because the sport’s not so big here. It’s a big step and it takes a lot of time. You need people who are capable of putting the program together. They have to know someone who knows how the system works.”
Haedo said that if San Luis and Argentines continue successfully, the country could one day field a second-division team in Europe. The team could give Argentinean cyclists a stepping-stone into the first division, as do European-based teams Colombia and Androni Giocattoli-Venezuela.
“You need someone like Claudio Corti or Gianni Savio, based in Europe, to run the team,” Haedo said. “Right now, Argentina only sends an under-23 national team to Spain for two months or so. It’s good because it gives the kids experience and a chance to ride for European amateur teams. That’s the logical step now.”
Argentina mostly produces sprinters because cycling centers on the flat roads of Buenos Aires. Maximiliano Richeze (Lampre-Merida) is the country’s only first-division rider.
But Haedo said there could soon be others, pointing to Eduardo Sepulveda as an example. He climbs well, finished the race in sixth place overall, and made his way to the French second-division team, Bretagne-Séché Environnement, thanks to the Tour de San Luis.