One reason oft-cited by riders for choosing the Tour de San Luis over the Tour Down Under is that the Argentinian event is a preparation race while those who travel to Australia aren’t so much dipping their toes into the season as plunging headlong into WorldTour competition.
It’s a fine theory, but one that felt stretched to its limits on the slopes of the Mirador del Potrero on Tuesday afternoon. True, the strength in depth of the San Luis peloton does not match that in Adelaide, but for more than half of their number this race is far from the first event of their season, but is perhaps the most important.
Certainly, the first summit finish of the Tour de San Luis had the feel of South America against the rest. Nine of the top ten finishers on stage two were from the continent, while the lone European among their number – Dani Moreno of Katusha – is perhaps something of an honorary South American considering that he met his Argentinian wife on the first edition of this very race in 2007.
Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale-Garmin) reached the summit in 17th place, 1:10 down on stage winner Dani Diaz (Funvic-Sao Jose dos Campos) but among the best of those WorldTour riders whose seasons are only just beginning. A decent outing, all things considered.
“Everyone calls this a preparation race but it’s pretty full on. The first uphill finish wasn’t super long so it was pretty explosive and you could see that everyone is in different places,” Dombrowski told Cyclingnews in Concaran on Wednesday. “For a lot of the South American guys it’s the middle of the summer for them and they’re used to the heat and all that, so they fared pretty well. Then the rest of us were kind of scattered about.”
Thursday’s fourth stage sees the second summit finish of the race, and the longer, 10.5-kilometre haul up the Alto El Amago might be better suited to those who are still feeling their way into the season and back into race rhythm.
“It’s the first race for quite a while for me so I didn’t know exactly where I was going to be but I think it was alright on Tuesday,” Dombrowski said. “And I think, hopefully, I can actually go a little better on the longer climbs, where it might be a little steadier and maybe the temperature will be a little cooler.”
2015 is, of course, a year of considerable change for Dombrowski. For one thing, it’s his first full campaign since undergoing surgery to repair a damaged iliac artery midway through 2014. “I’ve been training for a little while and I think everything is back to normal,” he said. It’s also his first season in the colours of his new team, Cannondale-Garmin, and arriving in an American set-up is a move he says is “like coming home.”
Dombrowski joined Team Sky as neo-professional in 2013 with a glittering reputation after landing the Girobio the previous year but he showed only the very briefest flashes of his considerable potential in his two years with the British team.
The iliac artery problem, which went undiagnosed for almost a year, was a significant mitigating factor, but Dombrowski’s spell at Sky is grist to the mill for those who argue that the team’s track record at developing young talent is a disappointing one.
“I’ve heard people say that and I guess in my case specifically, I only did a couple of races and I had a pretty big operation and I was out for most of the year, so no matter where I would have been I was out of racing,” Dombrowski said. “In terms of GC riding, they’re probably the best in the world and they’ve got some of the best GC riders in the world so if you’re that sort of rider and you’re a young guy, it may be difficult for you to show what you can do.
“That said, I feel like I had some good opportunities there and I wouldn’t say I regret my time there. They have a really impressive infrastructure in terms of rider support and I think compared to other teams, they’re the only team like that in cycling. I learned a lot from that and I’ll take that forward.”
Looking to the immediate future, the opening half of Dombrowski’s season is dotted with week-long stage races that chime with his talents as a climber. He travels to his European base in Nice later this month and then rides the Trofeo Laigueglia, before beginning his season in earnest at the Volta a Catalunya. The Giro del Trentino, Tour of California and Tour de Suisse are also on the agenda and, perhaps, a Grand Tour debut before the year is out.
“I think it would be more likely the Vuelta than the Tour but honestly I haven’t really heard,” he said. “The programme is only decided up until about June because by then guys get sick or hurt or whatever and everything gets changed around.”