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Banner field for San Luís tour

Rasmussen, Contador in same field for first time since 2007 Tour

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With the pre-season racing calendar becoming more international by the year, Argentina’s Tour de San Luís is attracting a banner field in its sixth edition of the South American stage race.

Scores of big names will be making the trek to central Argentina for the week-long stage race, with Levi Leipheimer making his debut with Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Others lining up include Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale), Tom Boonen and Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Filippo Pozzato (Vini Farnese).

All eyes will be on the unlikely pairing of Alberto Contador (Saxo Bank) and Michael Rasmussen (Christina Watches). The pair haven’t raced together since the controversial 2007 Tour de France, when Rasmussen was forced out of the race, opening the door for Contador’s first of three Tour wins.

Contador, meanwhile, is making his season debut with his long-running clenbuterol case still unresolved. The Court of Arbitration for Sport said last week it would delay, yet again, a ruling in his case dating back to the 2010 Tour until the final week of January.

That opened the door for Contador to make his season debut in Argentina while he waits to hear if he will receive a racing ban or not.

Somewhat surprisingly, Contador told MARCA that he gained 7.5kg since last year’s Tour de France, but has since lost 4kg going into this week’s race, adding, “I am a few kilos overweight still, but I am losing the weight and the training has begun well enough. The idea is to be fresh for the Tour.”

Ted King and Timmy Duggan both debut for Liquigas-Cannondale while UnitedHealthcare brings a strong squad with Jason McCartney, Jeff Louder and Jacob Keough.

There will be no shortage of sprinters, with at least four of the seven stages likely to finish in a mass gallop. Joining Boonen and Pozzato include the Haedo brothers, racing on home roads for Saxo Bank, Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale), Fran Ventoso (Movistar) and Jimmy Casper (Ag2r).

In all, five ProTeam and six pro-continental teams line up Monday for the opening stage in San Luís, with the Andes looming on the horizon.

The remainder of the field includes national and regional teams from across Latin America, including the Cuban national team.

The opening two stages should give the sprinters a chance to stretch their legs before a summit finish at Mirador Potrero, a relatively short climb of just under 5km at 6.5 percent.

The next day’s 19.5km TT should tip the favor toward the likes of Leipheimer, Contador and Nibali, a winner here in 2010, going into stage 5’s decisive mountain stage that includes a push up the Cat. 1 Mirador del Sol, with ramps as steep as 15 percent.

The penultimate stage features a hilly profile that will require the leader’s team to defend before a sprint-finale into San Luís in stage 7.

Road racing cranks up around the globe after winter slumber

Tour de San Luís (Argentina), 2.1

Stage 1: January 23: San Luis – Villa Mercedes, 188km
Stage 2: January 24: Fraga – Juana Koslay, 147km
Stage 3: January 25: Estancia Grande – Mirador Potrero, 166km
Stage 4: January 26: San Luis ITT, 19.5km
Stage 5: January 27: La Toma – Merlo, 160km
Stage 6: January 28: Lujan – Quines, 197km
Stage 7: January 29: San Luis, 166km