Miguel Ángel López wins La Vuelta a San Juan 2023
La Vuelta a San Juan 2023 finished with the Colombian rider vindicating himself after his dismissal from Astana, with a combative Remco Evenepoel and a Fernando Gaviria who left very good sensations and aims to be a great asset for Movistar Team throughout the season that now begins. We tell you what the Argentinian event has brought us which, despite being a 2.pro category race, has become one of the preferred options for some of the best riders in the world to start the season.
A single mountainous stage was enough for Miguel Ángel Lopez to win the race
The region of San Juan, in the northwest of Argentina, an area close to the Andean mountain range and bordering Chile, was once again the scene of an entertaining Vuelta a San Juan, a young race that began to be held in 2017 and which returned to the calendar after not being held in the last two seasons as a result of the pandemic.
As was usual before the two-year break, La Vuelta a San Juan, which was held to coincide with the Challenge de Mallorca, the first race on European soil, was the option chosen by the main names in the peloton, who preferred the heat of the southern summer to the low temperatures, rain and even snow that those who opted for the Balearic Island had to suffer.
A participation in which besides finding some big names in the peloton, as the powerful formation that INEOS Grenadiers presented with names like Egan Bernal, Filippo Ganna or Daniel Felipe Martínez; Bora-Hansgrohe that lined up Sam Bennett or Sergio Higuita; or the debut of Remco Evepoel, current winner of La Vuelta a San Juan, gave the opportunity to measure themselves against the best teams in the world to the main South American squads, including Oscar Sevilla's Team Medellin, which welcomed Miguel Angel Lopez after his abrupt departure from Astana.
The event's route, despite being held in a region crossed by the Andes, as is usual in this competition, was not too selective, with some mountainous difficulties in the intermediate zone of the stages and only the finish at Alto del Colorado in the 5th stage as a really decisive point for the outcome of the race.
The race started with a controversial finish in the capital itself, San Juan, with some truly terrifying last kilometres with the public even in the middle of the road, leaving us with the image of Remco Evenepoel protesting loudly to the organisers. In any case, the stage had a sprint finish in which Sam Bennett made his quality count by beating Morkov and Nizzolo.
A script that was repeated on the second day of this Vuelta a San Juan 2023 with finish in Jáchal, although the Irishman had to settle for 4th place against a powerful Fabio Jakobsen and with the pleasant surprise of the appearance of Fernando Gaviria, Movistar Team's star signing for this season and who began to show signs of being on his way to recovering that speed that a few years ago consolidated him among the best sprinters in the world. In any case, Sam Bennett, thanks to the time trial, managed to keep the leader's jersey of the race.
The third stage had an interesting finale with the finish line located at the San Juan Villicum speed circuit, a finish that had the last kilometres in a clear upward trend, enough to select the race and cause the arrival of a fairly reduced group, which produced a significant lack of control, making the work of the sprinters' teams fruitless.
It was in this troubled river that Trek-Segafredo's American rider Quinn Simmons managed to score a good stage, surprising the fast men with a powerful attack in the final stretch, who had to settle for second place in the stage, which went to Max Richeze, while Sam Bennett, thanks to his third place, managed to hold on to the lead of the race for another day.
The fourth stage of La Vuelta a San Juan 2023 entered the Andean zone, leading the riders towards the town of Barreal. Despite the mostly flat profile, the start of the day forced the peloton to climb up to the Virgen de Andacollo pass, at an altitude of more than 2,200m, which caused an important selection in a peloton whose physical form at this stage of the season is still far from optimal.
The main victims, as usual in these cases, were the sprinters who were unable to rejoin the leading group. Well, not all of them, as Fernando Gaviria did manage to overcome this demanding climb to win a finish that was a clear victory over Peter Sagan and Filippo Ganna, which made the Colombian Movistar Team rider the new leader of the race.
Before the decisive stage on the Alto del Colorado, the peloton enjoyed a rest day in which Peter Sagan stole the limelight by announcing his retirement from competition on his 33rd birthday.
Everything remained to be decided on the only really selective day, more because of the length of the ascent to the Alto del Colorado, which was preceded, with hardly any rest, by the climbs to Baños del Talascato and Alto de la Crucecita; and the altitude reached, above 2,600 metres, than because of the real hardness of the ramps, in a climb of around 5%, which in another context would not be selective.
However, the wind at his back would bring us an unexpected spectacle of attacks and counterattacks where even the world champion Remco Evenepoel dared to make his move for the race, although without success, still far from his best form. Finally, it would be a hard attack by Miguel Ángel López, in perhaps his only opportunity this season to show his level against leading cyclists, who vindicated himself by opening a gap of around half a minute that was enough to win the stage and take the lead.
Only Filippo Ganna tried to take advantage of his strength to cut the gap, but unsuccessfully. As a curiosity, in the chase he adopted an aerodynamic position so typical of track cyclists, with his forearms on the horizontal part of the handlebars and holding the corner with his hands from the inside. A position that the stewards present at the race considered illegal, for which he received a fine of 500 Swiss francs and the loss of 15 UCI points.
A few seconds after the Italian, Egan Bernal crossed the finish line, who was able to keep the pace after having worked at the beginning of the uphill for his teammate Ganna, who was accompanied by Sergio Higuita and the young Einer Rubio, another rider called to give great days to Movistar Team. Remco Evenepoel lost just over a minute to Miguel Angel Lopez to finish the stage in 7th position.
The effort would take its toll on Egan Bernal on the following day. The Colombian INEOS-Grenadiers rider, who in interviews during the rest day declared that he was still far from his true level and that the real triumph after his serious accident was to stay alive and be there racing, was forced to abandon midway through the stage, suffering from knee problems. Otherwise, the day's action was not much more exciting than finding out who would be the winner of a new mass finish, a role that went to DSM rider Sam Welsford.
The Australian would repeat the victory on the last day after a chaotic finish that was conditioned by the attack of Quinn Simmos and Remco Evenepoel with just over 10 kilometres to go and that had the peloton in check. However, the long straights along a dual carriageway leading to the finish in San Juan were too much of an advantage for a large group that managed to catch the two adventurers. However, the chase frustrated the work of the teams, so the finish was a complete chaos that Welsford took advantage of.