Despite the Tour de San Luis taking precedence on the international calendar in recent years, the neighbouring province of San Juan considers itself the true heartland of cycling in Argentina, and locals packed out the Estadio Aldo Cantoni on Sunday night for the team presentation and opening ceremony of the 35th Vuelta a San Juan.
The compère stoked the atmosphere early on by demanding a cheer-off between those who support Boca Juniors and River Plate, the country’s foremost football teams, and then inviting three couples onto the stage for an impromptu dance-off.
Soon it was the riders gracing the stage, with the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Tom Boonen, Elia Viviani, and Rui Costa receiving a particularly warm welcome as the organisers reeled off their every achievement, basking in the pride of their race’s newfound UCI 2.1 status and the resulting array of stars from the international pro peloton.
It was a lengthy ceremony as no fewer than 26 teams, all with six riders, were called up onto the stage. The WorldTour teams were sprinkled towards the end but the final spot was reserved for the Argentinian national squad, which includes the winner of the last three editions, Laureanos Rosas. He thanked ‘los Sanjuaninos’ for their support, but he knew his task had just become a whole lot more daunting as the likes of Nibali, who gave an impressive cameo of his Spanish, were now sat in the front row.
A full rendition of the Argentinian national anthem was blared out to an upstanding audience and then it was time for speeches from men in suits. The race director and presidents of the local and national federations were there but it was Sergio Mauricio Uñac, governor of the province of San Juan, who stole the show with a rousing display of pride in his region and its people.
He must have thanked everyone there was to thank three times over but he became increasingly impassioned as he extolled the enthusiasm for cycling in San Juan and vowed to ensure the race remains on the international pro calendar and grows in years to come. A confetti cannon provided the overblown, if strangely fitting, crescendo, followed by emotional dance-pop and man-hugs with fellow dignitaries – a job well done in stoking excitement for the race, which begins later today.