Local hero Maximiliano Richeze (Deceuninck-QuickStep) 'won' the pre-race criterium on the evening before the start of the Vuelta a San Juan in Argentina, bringing down the curtain on the official evening team presentation that included a lightshow, a long catwalk in front of thousands of local fans, fireworks and even a tango demonstration.
The event was bigger and brasher than any Tour de France team presentation, with live television coverage and the organisers claiming around 100,000 people turned up to watch the event. It was probably one tenth of that, but it was a spectacular way to kick off a race, even if it meant riders went to bed close to midnight before Sunday’s opening road race stage. Fortunately, stage 1 starts at 3:45pm, with the finished scheduled for 7:30pm local time.
All of the 27 teams on the Vuelta a San Juan start list took part in the team presentation, with the local Continental teams focused more on getting a selfie with Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Nairo Quintana than saving their legs for the week of racing.
After riding around the central Plaza del Bicentenario and onto a stage in the shadow of the stunning new town hall, the riders made sure they thanked the local politicians and especially el Gobernador de San Juan, Sergio Uñac, who proudly declared San Juan as ‘capital mundial de la passion por el ciclismo’.
As the fireworks lit up the sky, the riders headed off to find their bikes and prepare for the three criteriums. The WorldTour riders were first off for their five-lap, 10km race, followed by the Professional Continental teams and then the many local Continental teams.
The final race was fiercely competitive; the others a little less so. However, the WorldTour riders rode at close to 50kph, careful not to crash in the dark, with the real Vuelta a San Juan just hours away.
A different breakaway formed each lap, with first Deceuninck-QuickStep and then UAE Team Emirates and Movistar closing them down. Cavendish joined one move, and when he was pulled back with two laps to go, Richeze jumped away, much to the joy of the local crowd. Quintana soon got cross to him and they opened a 30-second gap on the peloton that quickly lost interest.
Quintana had no reply when Richeze opened up his sprint, and the Argentinean won by several bike lengths. The sprint for third was more of a fair match, with Cavendish coming through to hit the line first ahead of Sagan and Fernando Gaviria.
The Deceuninck-QuickStep team celebrated victory, and they could celebrate again a few hours later thanks to Elia Viviani winning the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in Geelong, Australia.
Click or swipe through the gallery from the team presentation and pre-race criterium.