Tour de San Luis - 5 riders to watch

Quintana, Nibali and Talansky begin their seasons

Since its inception in 2007, the Tour de San Luis has become a legitimate opener for many riders’ seasons. Situated in central Argentina, west of Buenos Aires, the seven-day race travels through the medium mountains of the San Luis province.

The race kicks off with a 21-kilometre team time trial to shake up the general classification early on. There will be some opportunities for the sprinters but they are far from straightforward with classified climbs to contend with on all but two of the seven stages. The summit finish to Cerro del Amago on stage 4 will be the first major test for the general classification, followed by stage 6 to Merlo.

The Tour de San Luis pits the well-raced and in-form southern hemisphere riders, who are building up towards their various national championships, against those who are just getting going.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) leads the charge in the sprint line-up, as he looks for his first victory in the rainbow jersey. The tricky stages will be right up his alley but he’ll have tough competition from Italy’s Elia Viviani and Jakub Mareczko, Etixx-QuickStep’s rising star Fernando Gaviria and Lampre-Merida’s Roberto Ferrari.

Several Grand Tour contenders have chosen to make San Luis their starting point to the season too. Read below for Cyclingnews’ five riders to watch for general classification at the Tour de San Luis.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar)

The Tour de San Luis has become the favoured start to the year for Nairo Quintana in recent times. The race allows him to remain in his native Colombia longer than a European start and gives him the opportunity to race at the national championships at the start of February. The mountainous course is well-suited to Quintana’s abilities and he has a solid record at the race, winning his debut appearance in 2014 and finishing third last season.

Last year’s time trial winner Adriano Malori will be a key rider for Quintana on the opening day and he’ll be relying on the Italian to bring him into the mountains will minimal time losses – if any at all. Once they reach the mountains, new signing Daniel Moreno will play an important role but also gives the team a secondary option in the overall classification.

The 2016 season is an important one for Quintana, as he looks to improve on his two runners-up spots at the Tour de France.

Nairo Quintana shows his hashtag

Andrew Talansky (Cannondale)

This will be Andrew Talansky’s first ever appearance at the Tour de San Luis and the earliest start to a season in his entire career. Talansky has had a long off-season after ending his year prematurely when he cut short the Vuelta a Espana in the final week.

In an interview with Cyclingnews late last year, Talansky called 2015 a season of ‘almosts’ and he’ll be keen to change that as early possible in 2016. He may not be an outright favourite but he proved at the 2014 Critérium du Dauphiné that he can challenge the stage racing elite.

He’ll be disappointed that there is no individual test against the clock but the team time trial will still be an opportunity to gain time in the overall classification. Losing Ben King to a broken fibula will be a blow to Talansky but he still has Lawson Craddock and Phil Gaimon for support.

Andrew Talansky on his way to finishing second during stage 17.

Vincenzo Nibali (Astana)

Vincenzo Nibali is one of three former winners that will be taking to the start line in El Duranzo on January 18. Nibali won the 2010 edition, kicking off a season that would prove to be a breakthrough for the Italian with a Giro d’Italia podium finish and a Vuelta a Espana overall victory. He’s scored a fourth and tenth on his following two appearances.

Nibali has headed out to South American early to take a look at the Olympic course in Rio de Janiero so he should be well accustomed to the time zone once the race begins. The 31-year-old Nibali had a challenging 2015 but crowned it off with victory Il Lombardia, a win that would have sent him into the off-season brimming with confidence.

Nibali is targeting the Giro d’Italia in May and will be looking find his form early in the season.

Vincenzo Nibali strikes the peace sign

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff)

Rafal Majka is another rider making his debut at the Tour de San Luis as he leads the Tinkoff team. Majka has been a promising talent for some time, ever since his top 10 finish at the 2013 Giro d’Italia. He confirmed that talent at the Vuelta a España at the end of last season, claiming third on an emotional final day. The 2016 season will be key for Majka and he will want to confirm the performances of last year.

It’s the earliest start to a season in Majka’s career, which in itself will provide its own challenge for Polish rider. Majka is not normally one to start the season all guns blazing but it would be remiss not to consider him as a potential contender for victory in Argentina. Majka is an aggressive rider and we can expect him to try something, even if he is out of contention in the overall classification.

Majka will be sharing leadership of the team with Peter Sagan who is targeting his first victory in the rainbow jersey.

A beaming Rafa Majka on the podium

Daniel Diaz (Delko Marseille)

After four years racing for South American teams, Daniel Diaz returns to this year’s race as part of the French outfit Delko Marseille Province KTM. The 26-year-old Argentinian is defending champion and two-time victor of the race, and will be the home nation’s big hope for the Tour de San Luis.

With two stage wins in his back pocket, Diaz claimed last year’s general classification by over a minute from the Colombian Rodolofo Torres. Diaz’s biggest challenge is likely to be the opening team time trial, with the bigger WorldTour teams likely to put time into his Pro Continental team. The two summit finishes will be key if Diaz wants to defend his title.

Daniel Diaz on the podium.

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