The TFSL is the first UCI women’s stage race on the calendar and it takes place in the beautiful province of San Luis in Argentina, a few hours outside of Mendoza. The area is characterized by vast and fertile farmlands that are bordered by arid mountains and a high desert terrain. The mixture of brightly hued greens contrast sharply with the rocky soil and distinct smell of sage.
I was a guest rider, along with my Optum Pro Cycling p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies teammate, Lex Albrecht, for Xirayas de San Luis, an Argentinian team representing the area. The team was directed by Marcelo Alexandre (former World Champion in the kilo, and whose brother, Sebastian, directs Jamis Sutter Home men’s professional team). The team is owned by Delfina Freres, who was Argentina’s first female race car driver, and she is also an avid cyclist, a super model, a mother, a grandmother, and insurmountable community icon. Somehow she did manage to do it all!
Tour Femenino de San Luis begins with a 1 day UCI race, and then a 6 day stage race. You got it! 7 days of racing in January. Sure beats doing intervals. Warm air, South American racing, and the most beautiful team to be able to experience this race alongside. Color, culture, warmth, smiles, and art all brought this team together. The kit itself was a work of art, and encompassed the passion and zest for life, clapping, and dancing that these people have.
After the one day race, the Grand Prix San Luis, which was won by UHC’s Hannah Barnes, the stage race began! Day 1 encompassed a twisty circuit around a lake that was bordered with shirtless men and bikini clad women enjoying BBQ’s and parties. Racing in 40 degree Celsius being cheered on by people floating in a lake make you reconsider your chosen profession. Or in this case, let’s call it vacation. With a cat crossing the road, and a dog running into the sprint finish (no animals, cyclists, or carbon wheels were harmed), it was an adventure of a life time. Day 2 offered more excitement and chaos that can only be found in hot, early season racing, with a 3rd day in a row with a sprint finish. Day 3 started and finished in the tourist town of Merlo, which was at the base of a mountain range and was the perfect mixture of European influence, South American flair, and cabanas and natural pools for all. 4 kilometers into the stage was a QOM. Talk about painful. The circuit then included river crossing, dirt roads, and twists and turns to finish up a 1 kilometer kicker. I attacked out of a small break 5k from the finish and soloed into the town of Merlo, up the kicker, and… 100m from the line the select finishing group caught me. That was so much fun almost winning that race says no one ever.
Day 4 was a 14k time trial, and the minute I finished, I was whisked away into the hot seat where my team joined me in the festivities, translations, and watching the remaining 29 riders finish the time trial. I lost the TT by .08 seconds. Yes, 8/100 of a second. That would have put me in the leader’s jersey, but instead left that stinging burn where you realize that some lessons are learned the hard way. Day 5 was a quick, windy and mountainous stage and we finally entered the final day of racing, Day 6 of the Tour Femenino San Luis, and the 7th day of racing in Argentina. It was a circuit through downtown San Luis that was completed five times. With the GC so close in time, the intermediate sprints were hotly contested. On the last lap, 13k to go, I attacked with one additional rider and within 10k to go soloed in for the victory of the final day of the tour. The time gap was not enough for taking the overall GC lead, but I finished 5th overall and after 2 “almost” victories, I was able to represent San Luis, my sponsors, and both teams so proudly. Xirayas de San Luis also placed 2nd in the Team Classification, and had the best Argentina rider, as well as the best rider from San Luis. With 2 podium finishes, and 2 jerseys, the team completed the race with success. The podium celebration involved dancing with the Brazilian team and throwing out swag to the crowd. It was the best celebration I have ever been able to be part of, and the after party was even better. Latin dancing with Argentina, BBQ wine, and I think the Brazilians took another podium with their dancing ability. I think all races should end this with such combining of culture, laughter, and unity.
It is for moments like this that you realize how important the cycling community is, regardless if you are in California, Argentina, or Minneapolis. You realize that you always keep racing. You always keep trying. In this case, the third time was the charm, but it is not always poetic like that. But what you really learn is the passion, the love, and the color we have for our sport transcends all continents, languages, and cultural boundaries. I am already looking forward to this vacation, I mean race, again next year!