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Tour de San Luis - 2.1
Argentina, January 19-25, 2009
By Kirsten Robbins in San Luis, Argentina
As the world awaits the return of Lance Armstrong at the upcoming Tour Down Under in Australia, Italian Ivan Basso is preparing for his own 2009 comeback in Argentina at the fourth annual Tour de San Luis held January 19-25. It's no wonder the world-class rival GC contenders, who will go head to head for the first time since 2005 at the Tour of California in February, have chosen to visit the Southern Hemisphere for the early season races.
Both countries are prime proving grounds because of the warm summer climate, but Argentina boasts bigger and higher mountains than those in Adelaide.
In it's second year with UCI status, the Tour de San Luis has upped its ranking to 2.1, and as a result has drawn 22 teams from around the world, thanks in part to race co-ordinator Giovanni Lombardi. Of the 22 teams, three are ProTour including Liquigas led by Basso, Saxo Bank led by American Jason McCartney and Fuji Servetto led by Spaniard David de la Fuente.
There are also three professional continental teams, six continental teams and ten national amateur teams. The event has grown in length and stature with the addition of two stages and three hill top finishes, changes that cater to a climber compared to last year's sprint-heavy finishes.
On paper Basso may be considered the strongest GC contender present, a 2004 and 2005 Tour de France podium finisher and winner of the 2006 Giro d' Italia, he returns to the sport after the completion of a two-year suspension for his admitted involvement with Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, the man at the center of the Operación Puerto scanda, in 2007. He and his team-mate Vincenzo Nibali will lead Liquigas against a peloton hungry for an early season victory.
Saxo Bank's McCartney, a 2007 Tour de California podium finisher and Vuelta a España stage winner, will be looking for a strong overall finish. The team's Argentinean sprinter Juan José Haedo, a double stage winner in the race last year, will no doubt be motivated to add a few more sprint victories to his palmares in front of his fellow countrymen.
Fuji-Servetto has put together a young team led by veteran David de la Fuente, winner of the 2006 Tour de France most aggressive rider jersey. Three professional continental teams include Italian teams ISD and Serramenti-Diquigiovanni along with the Spanish based team Andalucia Cajasur.
The large contingent of continental teams are by no means underdogs. The defending champion, Martin Garrido, racing for Paliermas Resort, proved to be unbeatable in the 2008 event after taking the leaders jersey on the prologue and maintaining his lead through all five stages.
Of the six continental teams, the US based teams would have included Rock Racing led by Oscar Sevilla, Jose Enrique Guiterraz and American national road champion Tyler Hamilton, but problems with the team's UCI license have kept them from starting. The Colavita-Sutter Home team includes a strong contingent of Argentinean sprinters in Alejandro Borrajo and Sebastian Haedo. Bissell Professional Cycling team will be led by their GC contenders Ben Jacques-Maynes and Tom Zirbel.
The notable national teams include those from Argentina as well as Mexico, Uruguay, Columbia, Chile, Cuba and Brazil.
The kick off: Last year the event started with a short prologue but this year the peloton will line up to the start of a flat 170-kilometre road race. The tour will leave the city centre of San Luis and head toward Justo Daract before finishing in Villa Mercedes where the first shuffle of the overall classification will likely see a sprinter at the top.
January 20 - stage 2: The climbing will begin with the first of three hill top finishes. The riders will depart from San Luis, tackling 185 kilometres of rolling terrain until they reach the final four kilometre ascent to the finishing city of Mirrador del Potrero.
January 21- stage 3: No rest for the GC riders in the 20-kilometre individual time trial in San Luis. There should be only slight changes to the general classification due to the pancake flat course. A powerful time trialist will be able to gain precious time needed before heading back into the hills the next day.
January 22 - stage 4: Offers the riders a 165-kilometre "queen stage' and a second hill top finish. Starting in San Luis, the race travels out to three large circuits that incorporate several climbs per lap. Upon completing the final circuit, the riders will race their way toward the finishing ascent. The crowds will likely see a showdown between the highest ranked GC riders atop a thirty minute ascent into the city of La Carolina. This is a stage that could decide the overall event winner.
January 23 - stage 5: The 190-kilometre stage offers another tough day in the saddle. The riders will leave the city of San Fco. Del Monte De Oro and embark on an undulating quest to the third and final eight kilometre hilltop finish into the city of Merlo.
January 24 - stage 6: The penultimate stage offers the sprinters a chance with fewerr hills and a slightly shorter distance of 130 kilometres. The peloton will line up in the city of Potrero on newly built formula one track. They will begin with racing several laps on the track and proceed out onto the rolling terrain surrounding the region of San Luis. They will then return to complete several more circuits of the track.
January 25 - stage 7: The San Luis crowds will likely be treated to a field sprint upon the completion of the ultimate stage. The 145-kilometre course is flat and fast incorporating much of the down town city centre. After completing an out and back circuit to the city of La Florida the riders will return to San Luis where the 2009 Tour de San Luis winner will be crowned.
2008 Martin Garrido (Arg) Palmeiras Resort-Tavira 2007 Jorge Giacinti (Arg) Lider