When your nickname is 'Polar Bear' and you prefer short sleeves and shorts when other riders are bundled up like the characters in A Christmas Story, Argentina in January may not be the place for you. But UnitedHealthcare's Tanner Putt made the most of his situation on Friday at the Vuelta a San Juan, infiltrating the day's breakaway and flying his team's colours in the high desert off the front for much of the day.
"I really do like the crosswinds, but when it's 90 degrees with it I'm not a huge fan," Putt said of the windy stage 5 to Alto Colorado. "I rode well for this early in the year and in the heat and everything for the kind of rider I am. So, yeah, I'm pretty happy with today."
Putt joined nine other riders in a move that escaped just after the day's first intermediate sprint at 30km, then spent the next couple of hours working the move to try to stay away as long as possible.
"There was a sprint a little ways into the race for the points, and I knew some of the guys were going for that, so I kind of just sat back and then as soon as the sprint finished it turned left into kind of a tail-crosswind, so I just moved up right after the sprint," Putt said.
"I knew something would go right there, and I followed Tosh van der Sande from Lotto [Soudal], and I ended up getting in the move. It was a tough day to get in the breakaway, for sure. It was very windy and pretty much all uphill, so…"
The group worked well together and eventually gained more than five minutes on the field. At several points, Putt found himself off the front solo. The first time was incidental, the second was on purpose.
"At one point I just rolled through going up the hill and nobody was really there," Putt said. "Then we kind of turned the corner into a headwind, so I sat up and waited because I knew you can't ride that far alone."
The next time he went off the front was part of an effort to shed some baggage from the breakaway.
"Me and the guy from Lotto kept trying to whittle the group down because there were a lot of guys just sitting on all day," Putt said. "So over the top of a climb I just told him to come with and just hit it on the downhill, and I ended up getting a massive gap."
Putt knew his chances of riding solo to the finish were likely nil, but he was tempted to hang off the front with his gap and soak up the TV time. Team duties called, however, as the general classification battle started to heat up behind him.
"Over the radio I heard it was splitting up in the back, and so I sat up and waited for the group to see if I could do anything for the guys. But after that first group caught us I was pretty much done for the day."
Putt may not be done for the week, however. He said Saturday's stage 6 run from the city of San Juan to Difunta Correa and back was a tempting plum to try and pick from a breakaway. The course heads out of town, makes a short loop around Vallecito and then heads back to San Juan on the same roads.
"I could see tomorrow actually making it," Putt said of potential breakaways. "I think last year the break made it, and I think actually it's kind of deceiving. Normally, [UnitedHealthcare director Sebastian Alexandre] says, it will turn into a tailwind on the way home, so sometimes the teams misjudge bringing it back.
"There's only so fast you can go in those tailwinds," Putt said. "I think tomorrow favours the break more than today."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake before studying English and journalism at the University of Oregon. He has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon.
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