Once again the big mountains were calling as day two and three of the Santa Cruz Andes Pacifico brought riders to the highest elevations of the week.
Starting after a long liaison to Nido de Condores, racers would tackle the longest timed stage of the week to kick off the second day of racing. Besides being nearly 18 minutes in length, it would also be the most technical trail of the week and the smell of burning brake pads hung in the air the majority of the way down. From there it was a long drive up to Rajamotores where a series of four stages fed one into the other, ending with the classic Penon to close out the day. There was some movement of positions in the top five, but Florencia Espineira and Pedro Burns held firmly into their leads.
Day three started with a massive hike-a-bike and traverse spread over nearly four hours before racers reached the highest point on the week above Valle El Arpa. From the start, riders could see into Argentina and the summit of Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas. Racers would tackle two back to back stages totaling nearly 15 km before a quick lunch break and shuttle to the final 5.5 km stage of the day, La Mina. A mix of very high speeds, rocky tech, and flow on dirt with more consistent grip was a welcome change after slipping and sliding in dust the first two days, but the long liaison, altitude, and fatigue from the previous day's would make the physical sections of trail that much more painful.
With three days in the books, we now have Florencia Espineira leading the women's race followed by Laura Battista and Pauline Diefenthaler. And for the men, it is still Pedro Burns out front but now with Frenchmen Romain Pulhan in second and Francois Bailly-Maitre in third. Tomorrow we head to the smaller coastal range mountains where the race will spend its final two days and, while they may not be as tall as the Andes, they are still big enough to challenge all comers.Current standings