Things have not gone quite according to plan for Miguel Ángel López this season. Initially slated to co-lead Astana at the Tour de France, which would have been his debut in the French Grand Tour, López has seen his 2017 racing calendar derailed by injuries at every turn.
Only a few months removed from abandoning the 2016 Vuelta a Espana after two crashes, López suffered a fractured tibia in a training crash late last year. That forced the Colombian climber to recalibrate his expectation for this season, pushing back his racing debut all the way to June. López finally rolled off his first start line of the season at the GP du canton d'Argovie and then began to show signs of good form at the Tour de Suisse – before crashing out of the race with a fractured thumb and facial injuries requiring stitches.
He missed the Tour, but the 23-year-old was back on the bike less than three weeks later. However sore his thumb or face might have felt, his legs were clearly working fine, as he notched a stage win and third overall at the Tour of Austria and went on to claim a stage victory and fourth overall at the Vuelta a Burgos. Now, he's looking to finish his first Grand Tour, making his second appearance at the Vuelta a España. Despite his mishaps over the last 12 months, he insists there won't be any nerves for him out on the road.
"The past is behind me. [Crashes] happen in races, you can see it in every race, the majority of riders crash. We're running that risk," he told Cyclingnews Friday on the eve of the race.
"That's behind now though. We're at a new Vuelta and we're going to see how it goes."
López's recovery from a broken tibia required more time and work than initially expected, and he was quick to credit his Astana team for their support during the long process.
"The end of last year was a bit complicated but afterwards I started to get better, improving little by little. I count on having a great team that has always trusted in me," he said. "They let me recover completely in Colombia, where I'm a bit more relaxed, working with my family around, riding on the roads where I come from."
With that in mind, it's probably no surprise that López was sure to declare himself ready to ride for teammate Fabio Aru at the Vuelta – although he did leave the door cracked ever so slightly to the possibility he may have his own chances down the road.
"I'll be at [Aru's] service as much as I can be, and then it depends on how the legs are out on the road. There's still a lot of racing ahead, but right now I'm riding for him," López said.
The Vuelta would theoretically be a golden opportunity for López to prove himself as the rightful heir to the Astana GC leader crown should Aru, still without contract for 2018, sign elsewhere in the coming days or weeks. López continued to play it close to the vest and loyal to the squad, however, when asked about proving himself at the Vuelta with an eye towards next year, saying only, "We'll see. Right now we're taking things calmly and then we'll see."
The 2016 Tour de Suisse winner has always been most at home on the steep climbs, hailing from the same Boyacá region of Colombia as Movistar's Nairo Quintana. Unsurprisingly, then, he singled out the stages to Los Machucos and Angliru and the days in the Sierra Nevada as the most tempting fare on the Vuelta menu.
More than anything though, he's just happy to be racing after hitting the deck so many times, and so hard each time, over the course of the last year.
"Sure, it's been a tough season for everything that has been happening, but now we're at the Vuelta again and I think we're in good form. We'll see what happens, how we are day to day," he said. "Just getting to ride is something for me."