For over a decade, Argentina has hosted early-season races, first with the Vuelta a San Luis and more recently with the Vuelta a San Juan. Riders have traditionally come from around the world, eager to put in crucial racing miles in the heat of the Argentinian summer. San Juan, in fact, was one of the last races held in 2020 before Covid-19 took hold and was one of the last races to resume, with numerous WorldTour teams only returning this past week.
And just about everyone here in this remote province of Argentina couldn’t be happier. Race organisers attracted a stellar line-up, and world champion Remco Evenepoel, Peter Sagan, and Filippo Ganna were only too happy to return. But the local fans have also been enthusiastic and excited to get a glimpse of some of their favourite stars.
Much of the opening stages favoured the sprinters, but that started to change on stage four when the peloton tackled the gruelling 2,200-meter Gruta Virgen de Andacollo climb. While the climb served to splinter the field, it was only an appetiser for things to come, as all eyes are on Friday’s queen stage that finishes atop the Alto del Colorado.
Kids waited patiently for a chance to get an autograph from the ever-popular Peter Sagan. And Sagan, a frequent participant here, did not disappoint.
The arid landscape is a constant here in the province of San Juan, and it provides the perfect stage for the European riders to put in some quality early-season miles.
Ireland’s Sam Bennett grabbed the first victory with a chaotic sprint in downtown San Juan.
Evenepoel stops for a selfie with fans before the start of stage two in Villa San Agustín.
Riders race through seemingly endless miles of desert on stage two. But while fans were relatively sparse, there were plenty of cacti looking on.
Sometimes the desolate landscape appeared to come out of a Western movie as the peloton raced towards San José de Jáchal on stage two.
The Argentinian flag is frequently flown along the roads of the San Juan.
Hydration is essential in this race where temperatures often simmer at more than 37 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit).
After winning the opening stage, Bennett enjoyed the first three days in the white leader’s jersey.
But with the mountains beginning on stage four to Barreal, another race has begun.
After an intense winter of training, 2019 Tour de France winner Bernal went on the attack early on stage four, bridging up to the breakaway midway through the stage and driving it for nearly 50 kilometres. The Colombian is looking forward to the queen stage up the Alto del Colorado.
Sagan (right) and Fernando Gaviria (next to him on left) rode brilliantly on stage four, making it over the 2,200-meter Gruta Virgen de Andacollo climb that dropped most sprinters. Both riders struggled through the Covid years, contracting the virus several times, but they are racing tremendously here in San Juan.
After their teams pushed the pace to drop the other sprinters on the Gruta Virgen de Andacollo climb, Gaviria and Sagan battled for bragging rights on stage four, with Gaviria, a constant winner here, besting Sagan, who will celebrate his 33rd birthday on Thursday’s rest day.
Sagan surprised the crowds on his 33rd birthday, announcing he'll be retiring at the end of the 2023 season and turning his attention to the 2024 Olympics, where he hopes to compete in mountain biking.