After a challenging start to the Giro d'Italia, things are turning around for Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) as the race enters its third week. The 24-year-old has moved into fifth overall and extended his lead in the young rider classification with second place in Sappada on stage 15.
Lopez crashed during the recon of the opening time trial in Jerusalem and lost close to a minute on the 9.7-kilometre course. He ended the opening week more than two minutes down and languishing in 13th place, not helped by a second crash on stage 5. While he has given away more time to maglia rosa Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Lopez has been steadily climbing the standings.
The Colombian moved well inside the top 10 with a strong ride on the Monte Zoncolan on Saturday before backing it up with his ride into Sappada on Sunday. The bonus seconds he earned gave him a bit more breathing space over Richard Carapaz, his rival for the white jersey, and put him within two minutes of the podium.
There are plenty more mountains to come, but first Lopez must tackle the time trial, which is not his favoured discipline.
"It was another hard stage and it was even harder after yesterday's efforts on the Zoncolan. Also, the pace of the race was really high, especially during the last three climbs," Lopez said in a team press release. "It was tough, a lot of attacks inside our group, we had to answer to each other. I answered to Yates, but in the end, he was able to go away clear.
"Later, all of us tried to attack, on the climb and on the descent. Despite yesterday’s stage, I felt quite good and I am happy with it. I did my best to be in front and to protect my white jersey. So I finished second and took some more seconds, that's good. I am happy to have another rest day tomorrow, but after that, there is a whole week of racing coming with the individual time trial on Tuesday. We will see how I do. All my rivals are really strong and still many things can happen in this race."
While Lopez is enjoying revived fortunes, his teammate Pello Bilbao continues to enjoy a solid Giro d’Italia campaign.
Bilbao lost a large chunk of time on the Zoncolan but fared slightly better in Sappada, finishing in a group with Davide Formolo (Bora-Hansgrohe) and George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) 1:20 behind Yates. He maintained his place inside the top 10 overall, though he felt like he had the legs to do more.
"It was a difficult day for everyone for sure," said Bilbao. "When the group of GC riders split, I was just behind Froome. So I remained in that group behind Lopez’s group. Maybe I could have bridged to Miguel, but I was afraid I might bring Froome up front. So, I preferred to remain in the group behind to control the situation. Miguel was in front and that was a good situation for us. I am happy for him and his ride today."