Review by Sheree, additional comments by Jack.
The sixth edition of the Tour de San Luis exceeded our expectations, despite the lack of a reliable video feed. The countryside looked magnificent and, with the exception of the first day, the weather was just what was ordered – wall-to-wall sunshine.
With sprinter-friendly stages, a couple of mountain-top finishes and a pan-flat time trial, there was something for everyone in this race. The presencef of a number of star-studded ProTour teams guaranteed media interest, while the locals also had plenty of home-grown talent to cheer.
We listened to the mellifluous, rolling tones of Radio Libertad, whose chief commentator compensated for his lack of knowledge with infectious Murray Walker-esque enthusiasm. During the race he would call up any number of team managers, including Juan Carlos Haedo, father of Saxo Bank’s Haedo brothers, to get their take on the unfolding action.
The local South American riders didn’t disappoint. Realising the presence of Alberto Contador, Levi Leipheimer and Vincenzo Nibali might curtail their chances in the overall they determinedly set their caps at the King of the Mountains and sprint jerseys. Although no one told local revelation Daniel Diaz, who finished third overall. I bet a number of team managers have obtained his mobile number.
To add to our excitement, VeloVoices were following young Colombian climber Daniel Chaparro of the Comcel-Coldportes team, who finished an impressive 23rd, just over ten minutes behind the overall winner.
Stage 1: San Luis to Villa Mercedes, 189.3km
Italian sprinter Francesco Chicchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) – more often a bridesmaid than a bride – survived the heavy rain and hailstorms to record a photo-finish win ahead of Saxo Bank’s JJ Haedo to register OPQS’s first win of the new season. Chicchi, who won a stage here in 2010, was launched by teammate Tom Boonen and finished ahead of the chasing pack. At the finish, he said:
It was a gruelling stage, I must thank the entire team for the great work they did and the trust they placed in me. Now we can look ahead to the next stages with more serenity. In the next few days we’re going to try to do some more good things.
Jack: What a tight finish! It was slightly disappointing that JJ Haedo couldn’t take the win on home soil, but it was an exciting opening sprint, going to a photo finish before the result was confirmed. A great start to the season for Omega Pharma-QuickStep.
Stage 2: Fraga to Juana Koslay, 145.3km
Under hot sunny skies, Chicchi made it two from two. He again won by the narrowest of margins ahead of OPQS teammate, Tom Boonen. The team had worked hard to bring back the breakaways and give their riders an armchair ride to the finish. That’s quite a bar bill OPQS are racking up.
Jack: Being a massive Boonen fan I was naturally disappointed it was his teammate rather than him on the top step of the podium. Nevertheless, he’s clearly got early-season form, and he will have a go later on in the tour. A great win for Chicchi again, a rider who so often manages wins in the smaller tours – and he’s kept up that record in Argentina.
Stage 3: Estancia Grande to Mirador del Potrero, 168.2km
No one expected a sprinter to win this stage, which finished atop the first-category Mirador del Potrero. It was time for the GC contenders to show their hands. Saxo Bank’s Alberto Contador had played down his chances before the race suggesting he was over his racing weight. That didn’t stop him beating OPQS’s Levi Leipheimer – who had attacked with 2km to go – in the sprint for the finish. Angelo Pagani (Colnago-CSF Inox) had attacked earlier in the stage and built a good lead but he suffered an untimely puncture.
At the finish, Alberto insisted Leipheimer was the race favourite:
He is the strongest for the overall; he looks very fit. For me this victory was important, but there are others who are bigger favourites for tomorrow’s time trial and for the overall.
Jack: Anyone who regularly follows cycling cannot possibly dislike Contador, or at least begrudgingly admire him. Here he showed his true class, with ‘El Pistolero’ firing in the style he so often does. He never turns up to a race without wanting to win, and this was testament to that. The Argentinean commentators have been getting very excited about ‘el mejor corredor del mundo’ [loosely translated, ‘the best rider in the world’ – Ed] being in town, and it’s clear he’s out to win.
Stage 4: San Luis, 19.5km individual time trial
Alberto was right. Levi Leipheimer dominated the time trial to take control of the leader’s orange jersey. He finished in 22:33, 23 seconds ahead of 2010 winner Vincenzo Nibali(Liquigas). As race leader, Contador started last but looked off the pace, and finished over a minute behind Leipheimer. He dropped to sixth on GC.
Jack: It was a disappointing day to be a Contador fan, as he looked sluggish. It was obvious the flat course would favour Leipheimer, but with Contador becoming such an ITT force over recent years, it’s a shame he didn’t put up more of a fight. Perhaps he isn’t quite in full racing shape.
Stage 5: La Toma to Merlo/Mirador del Sol, 160.6km
Contador bounced back to make it two climbing wins from two, as he won his second mountain-top finish on the Mirador del Sol climb. He and his 36 x 28 gear proved strongest on the final climb, and he beat local boy Daniel Diaz (San Luis Somos Todos) and GC leader Leipheimer, who clung onto the orange jersey. Afterwards Contador confirmed:
I’m very happy. If someone told me at the beginning of the race that I would win two stages, I would not have believed it.
Contador moved back into second place on GC but, with only two sprint stages remaining, Leipheimer looked every inch the likely race winner. Get that bubbly on ice!
Jack: Another show of climbing dominance from the world’s best climber. Unfortunately he couldn’t put a gap between himself and the impressive Leipheimer, but he won’t be too disappointed with a second stage win. The aforementioned Diaz has been a revelation in this tour, and at only 22 it seems Argentina have quite a talent on their hands.
Stage 6: Lujan to Quines, 201km
In the bunch sprint on a scorching hot day, Leipheimer preserved his lead and Liquigas’s Elia Viviani prevailed over JJ Haedo and Farnese Vini’s Andrea Guardini.
The sprinters’ teams had worked hard to pull back the inevitable breakaways composed largely of South American riders and, after a category one climb early on and a rolling parcours, got their just rewards. Afterwards Viviani said:
Even though we are in January, you deal with very good sprinters. The condition is not at the top but the competition level is high.
Jack: Another case of so near, yet so far for JJ Haedo in the hunt for a ‘home’ stage winner. A good win for Viviani though, and with fellow 22-year old and compatriot Guardini on the podium, the future of Italian sprinting looks bright!
Stage 7: San Luis, 167.1km
As expected, it came down to a bunch sprint finish in a scorching San Luis, and Tom Boonen emerged victorious at last, with a terrifyingly quick downhill run-in of close to 80kph. Boonen rounded off OPQS’s fantastic start to the season, with Leipheimer rolling home safely to win overall. Andrea Guardini finished second, with Buenos Aires boy Maximiliano Ariel Richeze (Team Nippo) third.
Jack: Boonen finally managed to get the win so many were desperate for him to achieve. It’s been a great tour for OPQS, who are already looking a force to be reckoned with after taking the team classification.
Jack: It’s been a surprisingly exciting tour to follow, thanks to the quality of the racing and the calibre of riders on show. Keeping in touch with the racing wasn’t always easy, trying to wince through the crowds obscuring the sole camera on the finish line on the local TV station, or trying to translate the excitable Spanish of the FM Libertad radio presenter. Nevertheless, it’s been a good week with a perfect parcours, with the likes of Contador and Leipheimer bolstering the lineup and racing to win. The Governor of San Luis, Claudio Poggi, talked about how he wants the race to have more professional teams and riders, as well as the success of the event. I look forward to seeing it again next season!
Sheree: You and me both, Jack!
1. Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) 26:32:55
2. Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) +0:46
3. Daniel Diaz (San Luis Somos Todos) +1:29
4. Stefan Schumacher (Christina Watches-Ofone) +1:34
5. Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) +1:50
6. Jose Serpa (Androni Giocattoli) +2:13
7. Magno Nazaret (Funvic-Pidamonhangab) +2:39
8. Luis Mansilla (Chile) +3:24
9. Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) +3:44
10. Andrey Amador (Movistar) +4:46