Organizers of the UCI 2.1 Tour de San Luis have assembled a quality international field to contest the fifth edition in San Luis, Argentina. The seven-day event, held January 17-23, offers racers 1028 kilometres of challenging terrain that includes a mixture of flat, sprint-friendly stages followed by a lengthy time trial and several steep mountaintop finishes that have traditionally decided the overall winner.
Liquigas-Cannondale's Vincenzo Nibali won the event last year but will not be in attendance to defend his overall title. All eyes will be on two-time Giro d'Italia winner Ivan Basso, who placed fifth overall in 2009, to help bring home the team's second consecutive victory with help from his five teammates Eros Capecchi, Jacopo Guarnieri, Alessandro Vanotti, Cristiano Salerno and Dominik Nerz.
"This year Ivan Basso, winner of the Giro d' Italia, will return to the Tour de San Luis," said technical director Juan Curuchet. "Vincenzo Nibali won our race last year and later went on to win the Vuelta a Espana. In Europe, when he reviewed his curriculum he spoke of the Tour de San Luis.
"In this edition there will be great cyclists again. The European teams have been preparing for months to attend the Tour de San Luis. It is described as one of the primary stage races in the world."
Besides Liquigas-Cannondale, Movistar and Ag2r-La Mondiale are two additional ProTeams registered to contest the mountainous stage race.
There are four Professional Continental level teams listed including Androni-Giocattoli. The Italian-based team was the strongest on paper in last year's event with four climbers Jose Serpa, who placed second overall, Jackson Rodriguez, Carlos Ochoa and Luis Mate. This year the team will field both Serpa and Rodriguez who are expected to strongly contest the overall title and Angel Vicioso to take on the sprint stages.
US-based UnitedHealthcare will field a team of six riders that includes strong climbers and time trial contenders Charles Wegelius, Rory Sutherland and Christian Meier. Likewise, Andalucia Caja Granada has listed a six-man team featuring Antonio Piedra, David Bernabeu and Jose Alberto Benitez. De Rosa-Ceramica Flaminia is expected to confirm a roster this week. Geox-TMC recently pulled itself from the start list and will begin its season GP Costa degli Etruschi in Italy on February 2.
Continental teams that are registered include Nutrixxion, Onda-Boavista and D'Angelo & Antenucci. Absent from the original list of teams is the Brazilian team Funvic and the US-based teams Trek-Livestrong and Jamis-Sutter Home.
The field will include a strong contingent of national teams including Cuba and its strong climber Arnold Alcolea, Bolivia, Brasil, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay, Ecuador and Uruguay. The Argentine National Team will field three former overall winners in Jorge Giacinti (2007), Martin Garrido (2008) and Alfredo Lucero (2009) along with a strong sprint team that consists of Walter Perez, who won the overall sprint classification last year, and Mauro Richeze.
Stages of the 2011 Tour de San Luis
The seven-day race consistently attracts some of the top teams in the world for its warm South American climate and mountainous terrain. This year, the event will kick off with a 166km road race from San Luis to the small city of Justo Daract, on a predominantly downhill course made for the sprinters.
Stage two will treat the peloton to a 157km road race that starts in San Luis and travels to the summer vacation town of La Florida before returning to a small finishing ascent on the Mirador del Potrero.
Stage three offers the peloton a predominantly false flat uphill 164km road race that has traditionally ended in a field sprint in the small town of Villa Mercedes.
The second half of the stage race is designed to draw out the general classification contenders. Stage four's flat out-and-back 19.5km time trial will no doubt shake up the overall rankings before the race heads into the mountains.
Stage five's 161km road race will begin in La Toma and will present the climbers with the first true mountaintop finish on Mirador del Sol in Merlo.
The climbing only gets tougher with stage six's 194km road race from Estancia Grande up a lengthy ascent to La Carolina that typically sews up the overall classification.
The Tour de San Luis will conclude at the stage seven's 167km circuit race. The finale offers a chance for the overall race leader to tuck himself safely inside the peloton led by sprinters barreling to the finish line in a high-speed and downhill bunch sprint.