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SAN LUIS, Argentina (VN) — The Latin influence on my Jamis-Hagens Berman team has given me many opportunities to race in South America and the strongest common thread that I have observed is that rarely is there a race down here without incident.
I can recall encountering an undocumented stream crossing (nearly hub-deep) inside a stage’s final kilometer, witnessing an ESPN race helicopter crash, a stray dog sauntering onto the course during a stage’s final sprint finish, and one day’s main breakaway forming through the lead motor brigade during neutral roll-out. From slick, diesel-covered roads to uniquely dangerous road furniture like soccer ball-sized Botts’ dots, it seems that every potential source of danger or chaos is ratcheted up a bit here. Racing down south feels like being in the Wild West.
After a two-year hiatus, Jamis and I are back in Argentina this week at the UCI 2.1 Tour de San Luis, a race that has become South America’s premier cycling event and a major ProTeam season kickoff. There has been much discussion recently of the UCI’s goal of globalizing cycling, and the Tour de San Luis is a prime example of its successful implementation. The locals come out in droves to this town’s chief annual sporting event. As someone who is somewhat familiar with the wild racing style down here, I wanted to comment on how the ProTeam attendance has affected the competition and calmed some of the usual chaos.
When I raced San Luis in 2008, 2009 and 2010, before there was such a strong ProTeam presence, the racing was the typical, disorderly South American style, and a few of my above example incidents were from those editions. This year, it feels more formal, as cycling’s curious code of etiquette and respect to the patrón is clearly evident. With heads of state like Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish comes a sense of order to the day that seems in stark contrast to my previous experience.
I think the normally intensely aggressive South American teams have confidence that the ProTeams can control the outcome and they feel less able to significantly impact the narrative. The stages now follow a familiar pattern: attacks from the gun until a breakaway is established; a decision from ProTeams that said breakaway is acceptable; an enforced timeout in the peloton; and the inevitable chase and intense ramping up for the final sprint or climb to the finish.
The ProTeam presence creates respect for this plot whereas the smaller events that I have attended down here have been much less predictable. It is similar to differences that I have perceived between National Racing Calendar events and the major U.S. UCI events like the Tours of California and Utah, but to a greater degree.
A certain amount of chaos in a South American race, however, is inevitable. In the first two stages this week, we have experienced strong tailwinds and predominately downhill final kilometers. Vague signage on Tuesday even caused Thor Hushovd, my Jamis teammate J.J. Haedo, and various other sprinters to mistakenly deviate with the police motorbikes inside the last kilometer. As I am sure the ProTeam riders will agree, the adventure most certainly remains.