By Gregor Brown
The Tour de San Luis next week starts the season for the biggest stars in cycling. The world number one, the most successful cyclist and the fastest sprinter travel to Argentina for the stage race, which begins next Monday (January 20).
"Every year the word gets around," race director, Andrés David Martínez told Cycling Weekly. "A few champions began to come and we built off of that. One came, another... And it started. We are not forcing them here."
Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha), last year's WorldTour champion, Peter Sagan (Cannondale), winner of the most races in 2013 and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), the fastest sprinter in the last six years stand out.
Giro d'Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), second overall at the Tour de France, race as well. Combined, Argentina counts more top cyclists than the Tour Down Under starting one day later on the other side of the southern hemisphere in Australia.
"All them come here with the desire to do well," Martínez added. "Alberto Contador came last year but wasn't in form. He won a stage, which turned out to be his only win in 2013. Nibali came and won the overall in 2010. The South American teams here are stronger, yes, but that's because it's like August here for us and our riders are at the end of their season. The Europeans are just starting."
Underlining what Martínez said, Daniel Díaz racing for a local third division team won the overall last year. Tejay van Garderen, with first division super-team BMC Racing, finished second at 33 seconds.
The race began by coincidence. Former provincial governor, Alberto Rodríguez Saá travelled to Paris in 2006 and happened to be on the Champs-Élysées the day the Tour de France finished.
"He saw the race and said, 'Next year I want this in San Luis.' The year after, he organised the race," said Martínez. "For that reason it's not Vuelta a San Luis but the Tour de San Luis."
The race celebrates its eighth edition this year. The provincial government provides all the money, pays for the teams' travels and uses the race to promote tourism. Every year, it builds around 30 kilometres of new roads and inaugurates them with stage finishes.
This year features three summit finishes: stage two to Mirador del Potrero (1247m), stage four to Alto del Amago (1710m), and stage six to Mirador del Sol (1450m).
Martínez said that he expects the European stars to challenge for the wins even if it is their early-season.
Martínez could not say how many million of pesos go into putting on the race. However, he explained that it is worth the money.
"It's important for tourism, people come to see the Tour de San Luis," he added. "Plus, it leads into March, when San Luis has its carnival and sees two million people arrive from Brazil."
The race promotes local racing too. Three all-Argentinean home teams race: one from the San Luis province, one from the Buenos Aires Province and one national team. Two locals race with European teams, Maximiliano Richeze with Lampre-Merida and Eduardo Sepulveda with Bretagne.
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