Raucous opening night in Argentina
With a hard-driving techno soundtrack, an ebullient announcer and thousands of cheering fans packing San Luis's Plaza Pringles, the 25 teams comprising the sixth Tour de San Luis peloton were each welcomed to the stage amidst a spectacle of lights, fog and thunderous applause.
And while the Tour de San Luis is packed with talent from top to bottom, featuring five ProTour, seven Pro Continental, six Continental as well as seven national teams, it was clear that the assembled masses were there to catch a glimpse, or for the lucky ones a fan photo, with Team Saxo Bank's Alberto Contador.
Each of the riders comprising the Tour de San Luis peloton, bar one, took a leisurely spin of about 5 blocks from the team hotels down San Luis's main nightlife thoroughfare, Av Illia, to the staging area where they were assembled in a fenced off paddock, but still easily accessible to fans. The exception to the means of arrival to the 8pm presentation kickoff was Contador, who arrived after his Saxo Bank teammates in a team car, and required a cordon of police to fend off the crowd chanting his name and whisk him into the staging area.
Contador graciously posed with fans pressed against the protective fencing, as well as posed for pictures with several riders before ultimately making his way to the stage as the penultimate team to a huge ovation. The final team to grace the stage was the local Continental squad San Luis Somos Todos.
Each team was received on stage by San Luis province governor Claudio Poggi, sports minister Maria Celia Sanchez and Union Cycliste of Argentina president Gabriel Curuchet. And just as the amassed throngs busily snapped away with their cameras at the stars of the evening, the riders, too, took their own pictures from stage of the enthusiastic crowd, which for most professionals is their first race introduction of the young season.
One of the most emotional moments of the evening was reserved for the Movistar team introduction, where the Spanish ProTour squad was given a plaque commemorating Xavier Tondo, who led the 2011 edition of the Tour de San Luis and died in a tragic accident four months later in May.
After all the teams had assembled on stage, with a breeze kicking up along with the threat of rain, the evening concluded at 9:15pm with a fireworks display over the Plaza Pringles.
The Tour de San Luis begins on Monday, January 23 with a 189.3km stage from San Luis to Mercedes.
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