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WorldTour stars find success in Argentina

The Vuelta a San Juan kicked off Sunday, and Fernando Gaviria and Julian Alaphilippe won the first two stages.

PERI LARGO PUNTA NEGRA, Argentina (VN) — The Vuelta a San Juan is the first race of the season for some riders, but it’s giving WorldTour stars a chance to shine.

In the second stage, an undulating one with an uphill kick finish, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) rode to victory. He followed attacks by Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and led a group home with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) taking third.

“It’s always important to start the season well,” Alaphilippe said. “I have some really important races in Italy in March, so I think this is good preparation for Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico, and Milano-Sanremo and then all the classics in Belgium. I’m really happy to start my season here in South America and happy to win so soon.”

Fernando Gaviria sprinted to victory in stage 1. The UAE Team Emirates Colombian star still leads the overall.

The Frenchman Alaphilippe never had traveled to Argentina before. This week-long stage race, however, pulled him and several big riders and teams from over the Atlantic Ocean. With the warm weather — which can sometimes be too hot — they’re finding their space to race into the season while smaller teams fight for a chance among the big fish.

“I think for everyone it’s just a preparation race, but maybe for the countries from South America it’s an important race,” Sagan said.

“Also for us [it’s important], but it’s more for training and have some kilometers in good weather and the race rhythm.”

Sagan is one of the few riders who began in Australia at the Santos Tour Down Under earlier this month. He won the opening stage and after the race, he traveled over the Pacific Ocean to the western Argentine lands that produce the famous Malbec wine.

The work he does here will serve him well for his classics run, starting with Milano-Sanremo on March 23. Sagan wants to win that race as well as the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix for a second time.

“It’s normal that the South American riders care for this race,” said Quintana, who hails from Colombia. “It’s important for me because it’s hard and a step along to the season’s goals. I’m good, but my form’s still coming along and this is the first round of competitions.”

Quintana is the favorite among the local fans for the overall win. He attacked Monday and showed that he could be a stage winner when the race climbs to Alto Colorado, at 2,624 meters above sea level, on Friday.

“If I have the chance, I’ll take it,” he said of the win. “I hope I feel good and we’ll see on the road. I feel a lot of warmth from the fans out there, and it’d be good to try.”

Besides being a place for the stars to get some race training and the local riders to compete along with the big teams, the race gives Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) a launchpad.

The Belgian, who turned 19 last week, won 23 races in 2018 as a junior, including the worlds time trial by more than a minute and the road race with a 20km solo attack. With much media attention, especially in cycling-obsessed Belgium, he skipped the under-23 ranks to turn professional immediately.

“We did what we had to do, we wanted to win with Julian, we won,” Evenepoel said. “So I think it’s a perfect day for us today.”

Remco climbed onto the podium for the first time as a WorldTour rider, now leading the young rider classification after a 15th place on Monday’s stage.

The race continues Tuesday with a time trial that should give fans an idea of the eventual overall winner.