SAN JUAN, Argentina (VN) — The Vuelta a San Juan may only rank as a UCI 2.1 and count few WorldTour teams, but offers good weather, food, and a low-key way to ease into the season.
The eight-day seven-stage race is one of the two main kickoff events for the 2018 season along with the Tour Down Under, which took place last week in Australia. But without the WorldTour points up for grabs, teams and riders find the racing much more relaxed in San Juan and a perfect launch pad for the European season.
“It’s a very good race to start with, not so fast, not so stressful, and the weather is fantastic,” Filippo Pozzato (Wilier Triestina-Selle Italia) told VeloNews. “The weather is great because last year it was too hot.”
Pozzato goes from here to the Dubai Tour and the Tirreno-Adriatico in mid-march, an important race for his Italian team. Belgian Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) will aim for the cobbled classics after an altitude training camp.
“The weather is good, for example, it’s raining in Mallorca and in Europe, here it’s almost too hot,” Benoot said. “The atmosphere is looser and less stressful than you’d have in Belgium or the European races, so it’s a nice way to start the season.”
“It’s nice weather, a good race to get things sorted out,” American Greg Daniel (Trek-Segafredo) said. “It has a little bit of everything, crosswinds, climbs, and time trials, but most importantly good weather and not so much stress as well.”
The weather has been 85 to 95-degrees Fahrenheit with some short-lived storms blowing through while the riders rested in the hotel headquarters in San Juan.
San Juan is celebrating its 36th edition, but only its second at a higher level of 2.1. The move came when the provincial government decided to invest more funds and promote the area, which includes the sprawling Malbec vineyards and Andes Mountains to the east creating a natural border with Chile.
“Here it’s so wide, you have so much space here compared to Belgium, where everything is built up with houses, but here it’s still untouched,” added Benoot. “Especially it was nice to see the mountains and look kilometers far away without seeing influences from the humans.”
Daniel said, “It’s beautiful, it kind of reminds me of Utah or Arizona a bit, desert, high desert, pretty dry, and when it rains, it’s short. It’s nice, and you definitely have to put your sun block on.”
The race this year included sprint stages, a time trial and a mountain stage to Alto Colorado, where local Argentine Gonzalo Najar took control of the race overall. At night, the beef sizzles on the grill and, at least for the staff and journalists, the dark red Malbec wine flows into glasses.
Pozzato, who prefers white dry wines, said: “It’s not possible to drink wine when we are at the race, but for sure, the Argentine beef is some of the best in the world.”
Movistar’s Victor De La Parte Gonzalez said, “The Argentine steak? This is one of the best things we can enjoy here. Also, it’s the start of the season so we can take it easier, enjoy the food and the people. So it’s really good for us.”