South America is on the up with a sizeable pot of talents. Venezuela, for instance, has joined Androni Giocattoli as a sponsor and with a few of their riders like 2011 UCI America Tour winner Miguel Ubeto. The stars who chose to ride the Tour de Luis will be helping lifting the profile of the stage race and hopefully give it more celebrity status. Since there are no World Tour races in the calendar between January (after Tour Down Under) and March (back with Paris-Nice), maybe this one will battle it out with a few growing races like Mallorca, Qatar, Oman. To do that they will need to add tv coverage and at least highlights shared on social networks like TdU did.
Contador was there, overweight, therefore not firing with all cylinders (so he said) and possibly at his last race for a while, pending a suspension by CAS. Other notables were Jesus Hernandez, J J Haedo, Tosatto, Nibali, Viviani, Boonen, Chavanel, Leipheimer, Grabsch, Chicchi, Nocentini, Casper, Hinault, Arroyo, Ventoso, Visconti, Sella, Serpa, Pozzato, Guardini, Michael Rasmussen, Schumacher.
The stages ofeered a variety of terrain with two mountain top finishes and a time trial in between them, the rest more or less undulating.
A very wet stage with several crashes in the final kilometers and a photo-finish sprint between J J Haedo and Chicchi, won by the latter finally in winning form after an anonymous 2011, showing that changing teams from Liquigas to Omega worked for him.
Another sprint, anothe photofinish. This time between teammates, Chicchi and Boonen of OmegaPharma-QuickStep. Both put their hand up and Boonen did a double take on Chicchi. Did he think he'd won the sprint? Chicchi later said that he was working for his captain, the sprint got messy, he turned around and couldn't see his captain so he went for it. Not sure Boonen will like that.
So much for being overweight! Contador won the first (windy) mountain top finish, a few seconds in front of Leipheimer of OmegaPharma-QuickStep and Rubianoof Androni Venezuela. He joined Nibali in the chase of local hero Daniel Diaz of San Luis Somos Todos. Leipheimer was his usual self in an unrelenting pursuit, only outsmarted in the final sprint for the line. Notorious Stefan Schumacher of Christina Watches was 4th thus getting 3rd on GC. Chavanel was showing good form, keeping high in the GC. One very horrible accident happened when on a descent, Cuban rider Arnold Alcolea slammed his face against a wall and lost consciousness and is now in stable but serious conditions in hospital.
Individual time trial, predictably won by specialist Levi Leipheimer. The surprise came instead by Nibali's performance, finishing in 2nd place (with an eye on the Tour maybe?). Stefan Shumacher climbs to 2nd overall while Contador slips in GC with a poor 6th place.
Contador again. On another mountain top finish he outsprints local hero Daniel Diaz who jumps Schumacher in the classification. Leipheimer follows a few seconds behind, cementing his overall lead.
Liquigas-Cannondale get their first victory of the year with young sprinter Elia Viviani, beating J J Haedo and Guardini.
Guardini is beaten again on the line, this time by Tom Boonen who finally shows his old form with a close to 80km/h sprint!
1. Levi Leipheimer
2. Alberto Contador 46"
3. Daniel Diaz 1'29"
Leipheimer is the overall winner, showing that America is good for him, OmegaPharma-QuickStep will hope that the change of team will allow him to carry his skills over to Europe in the Grand Tours. Contador is clearly showing already in the season what he's capable of, and his eagerness is in no doubt fuelled by the imminent result of his court case.