Preview Flèche Wallonne
Mario Aerts, sports director at Lotto Soudal, talks about a race he won himself in 2002.
Now that the Tour Down Under has ended, it is up to the South American continent to welcome some of the WorldTour riders for the start of their season. The 37th edition of the Vuelta a San Juan (America Tour, 2.1) takes place from Sunday 27 January until Sunday 3 February. With a couple of sprint stages, two summit finishes and a flat time trial, this Argentinean stage race offers chances to all kinds of riders. Jelle Wallays – who won a stage in Argentina last year – and Tiesj Benoot preview their first race of the season. Sports director Frederik Willems talks about the chances of stage success.
Jelle Wallays: “I prepared myself for the first race of the season during a two-week training camp in Calpe. Together with Jens Keukeleire, I did a lot of training kilometres in perfect weather. I can’t wait to race again! Of course, I hope to repeat last year’s performance. Then, I went to Argentina without any expectations because I wasn’t able to train properly during ten weeks because of a crash in the Vuelta. Now, the shape is fine but – contrary to last year – the field at the start is also stronger.”
“My best chance for another stage win would be by joining a breakaway, but I am also quick when it comes to a reduced group sprint. The main goal in Argentina is to get back into race rhythm. Last year, we started the race without any pressure and we will do the same this year. The heat is something to take into account. Last year, it was really hot in San Juan and the Vuelta a España. In both races, I took a stage victory. It turns out that extreme weather conditions really suit me.”
Tiesj Benoot: “Starting the new season is always a bit of a mystery for a rider. But I trained well and didn’t get ill so I will head for Argentina with good feelings. My objectives for the season officially start at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad but the Vuelta a San Juan is perfectly scheduled in the run-up to that period. I mainly focused on endurance training so I didn’t do a lot of intensive training sessions that are needed to get in top shape. We’ll have to wait and see how the legs react but I have a good feeling about it.”
“I will certainly grasp the opportunity to get some results, just like I did last year. I think there are two crucial stages. There is the uphill finish on the dam in stage two and there is also a tough mountain finish scheduled on the fifth day of racing. In those stages, I can maybe show something. The overall standing will be a logical consequence of good stage results. The weather conditions will play an important role in the race. Argentina can be really hot and there can be a lot of wind so we’ll have to pay attention to that as well.”
Frederik Willems, sports director Lotto Soudal: “We start the race with a big part of our Classics team. You could expect that this race is only a preparation towards the Classics but that’s certainly not the case. Jelle Wallays won a stage last year, so our goal is – also this year - to go for the best possible result in every stage. However, we have – contrary to the team in Australia – no pure sprinter in our line-up. So, beating guys like Sagan or Gaviria will be hard. For us, it’s mainly about racing attractively and joining breakaways that include some of the stronger teams. Then, it is up to the sprinters’ teams to control the race. We don’t have to take the initiative in such a scenario and could make some plans to try something, as a group, in some of the more technical finales. We will also try to bring guys like Nikolas Maes or Jens Keukeleire in a good position during the run-up to the sprint.”
“The stage schedule is quite similar to that of last year but still, there are some minor but important changes. The third stage is a 12 kilometres long individual time trial on straight roads. Then, it will become clear who’s already in good shape. From there on, tactics can be defined for the rest of the Vuelta a San Juan.”
“The race also marks the professional debut of Stan Dewulf. Because we mainly race with the team for the Classics, we decided to include Stan in the Vuelta a San Juan line-up. As the U23 winner of Paris-Roubaix last year, he will probably be a rider for the cobbled Classics. In the first place, he has to learn as much as possible but if there are opportunities for him in the race, he will certainly get the freedom.”
Stage 1 Sunday 27 January: San Juan – Pocito (159.1 km)
Stage 2 Monday 28 January: Chimbas – Peri Lago Punta Negra (160.2 km)
Stage 3 Tuesday 29 January: Pocito – Pocito (ITT) (12 km)
Stage 4 Wednesday 30 January: San José Jachal – Villa San Agustín (185.8 km)
Rest day Thursday 31 January
Stage 5 Friday 1 February: San Martín – Alto Colorado (169.5 km)
Stage 6 Saturday 2 February: Autódromo El Vilicum – Autódromo El Vilicum (153.5 km)
Stage 7 Sunday 3 February: San Juan – San Juan (Circuito Circunvalación) (141.3 km)
Line-up Lotto Soudal: Tiesj Benoot, Stan Dewulf, Jens Keukeleire, Nikolas Maes, Jelle Vanendert and Jelle Wallays.
Sports director: Frederik Willems.