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When I look at a world map or the international section of a newspaper, I often read it in terms of relevance to cycling.
For example, it is because of monuments like the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège that I know that Belgium is divided into two distinct halves, Flanders and Wallonia. Reading of Basque nationalism in the news makes me think of the ProTeam Euskaltel-Euskadi’s policy of hiring nearly exclusively Basque riders.
And the common summertime destination for Argentine tourism of San Luis will forever stand out to me from the rest of the broad Argentine Pampas region after racing here with Jamis-Hagens Berman in the Tour de San Luis. My time in Argentina this week has me pondering how being a member of the peloton brings tangibility to the rich cultures and histories that the sport highlights.
Our week in San Luis began with the tour’s team presentation at the province’s replica of the Buenos Aires Cabildo, an edifice commemorating the May Revolution of 1810, which began the Argentine war of independence from Spain. It was a chance for me to learn a bit of the country’s history and enjoy the poignancy of the local public voicing its strongest welcome to a Spaniard, Alberto Contador, who was marshaling his troops ahead of a much less significant Argentine battle.
During quiet moments in the stages, usually after the breakaway has departed for the day, the peloton is jumbled and we get a chance to chat with some of the riders around us. It is a time to catch up with friends on rival teams, and also an opportunity to make introductions.
To me, a fun part of being a cyclist and world traveler is learning greetings in many different languages. This week alone I have found occasion to say, “Hi,” “Hola,” “Ciao,” “Bonjour,” “Oi,” “Guten tag,” and even “Konnichiwa,” an indication of the worldliness of the Tour de San Luis peloton.
The daily shuffling of the bunch has given me a few chances to speak with members of the Cuban national team. We have an easy ice-breaker, as they all know my two Cuban teammates on Jamis, Luis Amarán and Ruben Companiono, and are eager to hear how their expatriates are getting along in the U.S.
From these discussions, I have learned that the monthly salary for a professional cyclist in their country is room, board, bike maintenance and $15, which has given me more perspective into Amarán’s claim that “there is no future” in Cuba and his decision to defect. The consequences of our trade embargo became palpable when I learned that the Cubanos purchase replacement motorcycle and car parts whenever they travel abroad, and that they always have authentic Cuban cigars for sale.
Time in the peloton is not all small talk and waxing cosmopolitan, however. The reason we all came to Argentina was competition, and when we do resume the racing, the friendliness is most certainly set aside until the next day.
The suffering I will forget, but a lot of what I will remember from San Luis is the experience inside the peloton, and I hope I was able to share some of that here.