We’ve just finished up the Tour Down Under and the Tour de San Luis, so we have a few tweets from the action in the southern hemisphere. And it’s a Lance-free zone (except for one little thing that is funny). But otherwise, yes, it is! So let’s start the column with a legend.
The happiest man in the peloton?
Just why do we love Jens Voigt so much? Is it his dress sense?
Forget Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) or Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol), it was young local rider, 23-year-old Daniel Diaz (San Luis Todos Somos) – formerly of the Footon-Servetto team – who upset the odds to win the seventh edition of the Argentine stage race. He more than made up for finishing second behind Levi Leipheimer last year, and will have no doubt caught the attention of the bigger teams in the process.
The race got under way in not-at-all surprising circumstances, with Manx Missile Mark Cavendish opening his Omega Pharma-Quick Step account with a sprint victory on the flat first stage. After a four-man break was swept up by the Belgian team, Lampre led out the sprint to try to hand Alessandro Petacchi the victory, though the veteran Italian’s sprint was only good enough for third place, behind Cav and his compatriot Sacha Modolo (Bardiani Valvole-CSF Inox).
Modolo went one better in the second stage, shocking Cavendish by surging past him to take the win and the leader’s jersey. A three-man break had escaped for most of the day, though they were caught comfortably in the closing kilometres and it came down to a bunch finish. Modolo beat Cavendish in a straight sprint. “I tried everything today. Modolo was just better,” he bluntly stated. Leigh Howard (Orica-GreenEDGE) finished third.
Stage three saw the first real mountain action, and brought a surprise victor for the second consecutive day. It was Brazil’s Alex Diniz (Funvic Brasilinvest) who escaped to victory at the start of the punishing 8km ascent to Mirador del Potrero, finishing 24 seconds ahead of second place Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia). The main favourites all lost significant chunks of time, with Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Van Den Broeck 25 seconds back, Contador 48 seconds in arrears, and Nibali completely out of contention, losing over two minutes. Diniz donned the leader’s jersey, with the GC gaps the same as the ones on the stage.
The race’s fourth stage was a relatively short 19.2km individual time trial, and it was 35-year old Canadian TT specialist Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE) who emerged to take victory, finishing seven seconds ahead of Leandro Messineo (San Luis Somos Todos), while Michal Kwiatkowski‘s(Omega Pharma-Quick Step) third place was good enough to assume control over the GC. Van Garderen was the favourite for the overall victory in second place, with Contador 1:10 back in sixth.
Stage five couldn’t have gone any better for the local San Luis Somos Todos team, as their rider Emmanuel Guevara became (almost) as famous as his communist compatriot and namesake, while Daniel Diaz took over the overall lead. It was a breakaway victory for Guevara, who escaped early on in the stage and survived to the uphill finish at La Carolina. Diaz attacked with Alberto Contador at the start of the climb, though the Spaniard couldn’t live with the pace. Kwiatkowski dropped out of the lead and down to ninth in the GC, while Diaz sat 17 seconds ahead of second place van Garderen.
Contador took the next stage, attacking on the steep climb of Mirador del Sol with just over a kilometre remaining. Diaz’s impressive form continued, and he finished just two seconds behind Contador, dropping Tejay van Garderen in the process. This extended his lead over the American – who held onto second place – to 33 seconds, practically sealing the overall win in the process.
That was because the final stage was a sprint finish and one, after a chaotic headwind finish, that was won by Mattia Gavazzi (Androni Giocattoli) from Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Francisco Ventoso (Movistar). The victory reportedly reduced the Androni Giocattoli boss Gianni Savio to tears, with Gavazzi returning from a two-year cocaine ban. The stage saw Diaz take the overall, with van Garderen second and Diniz third. Guevara took the mountains classification, Messineo the sprint and Alejandro Sivori (Argentina) the best young rider in an Argentine clean sweep.
Analysis & opinion
The Tour de San Luis is a race which has to be praised, delivering exciting racing, big names and an excellent parcours in a nation that isn’t exactly known for its cycling pedigree. After attracting Tom Boonen and Alberto Contador last year, the high-profile names have continued to arrive, and will continue to arrive with such a good parcours serving as an early season fitness booster for those not heading to the Tour Down Under. One thing they could do, though: make following the race a bit easier!
As for the actual racing itself, it was heartening to see a number of local and South American riders excelling, with Argentina possibly producing some more noteworthy cycling talent – no doubt helped by this race, now in its seventh year. A Brazilian, a Colombian and two Argentines (including the race winner) finished in the top ten.
Of course, the major talking point – for British fans, at least – was Mark Cavendish’s OPQS debut, which begun in perfect fashion with his sprint victory on stage one. While he failed to win another stage, and was surprisingly beaten in a straight fight by Sacha Modolo on stage two, not too much can be read into this. These stages were quite messy in the sprints, sometimes the result of climactic conditions and possibly also down to a less organised and experienced peloton, not forgetting Cav won’t yet be in perfect form. I’m sure he’ll be satisfied enough to get off to a winning start.
Equally, it was interesting to see Alberto Contador in good form already, winning a stage and finishing fourth overall despite coming into this race hoping to lose a little weight. Tejay van Garderen’s second place was impressive, and he seems to be in good shape already, despite downplaying expectations with a bug before coming into the race.
An honourable mention must also go to Svein Tuft for his TT win, with the 35-year old perpetually impressive in that discipline. It will be interesting to see whether he’s given a go in any bigger races with Orica-GreenEDGE, as he could potentially spring some surprises and upset some bigger names. Outside of Fabian Cancellara and Tony Martin, there may not be many time trialists better than an on-form Tuft.
1. Daniel Diaz (San Luis Somos Todos) 24:03:16
2. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +0:33
3. Alex Diniz (Funvic Brasilinvest) +0:39
4. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +1:02
5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) 1:47
6. Mauro Santambrogio (Vini Fantini-Selle Italia) +2:29
7. Miguel Angel Rubiano (Androni Giocattoli) +2:34
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the VeloVoices podcast, where Panache, Kitty and Tim chew the fat over the first WorldTour race of the year, the Tour Down Under. And laugh at each other’s accents. And talk about the weather.
(Note: No alcohol was consumed in the making of this podcast. Well, not much, anyway.)