Oscar Sevilla (Medellin-Inter) hoped to climb onto the top step of the general classification podium at the Vuelta a San Juan Friday on the Alto Colorado, but 24-year-old Argentinean champion Gonzalo Najar (S.E.P. de San Juan) upset Sevilla's plans by soloing away from the lead group with 20km to go. Najar took the stage 5 win by 1:58 over his considerably more experienced rival.
Now second overall, Sevilla lies 1:02 behind Najar and 20 seconds ahead of overnight leader Filippo Ganna (UAE Team Emirates). The podium is a distinct possibility for the Spaniard, who has been racing in South America since being effectively blacklisted from the European peloton following his involvement in the Operacion Puerto blood doping scheme.
"It was a very fast stage," Sevilla said in the post-race press conference. "The first kilometres were very difficult because we had to keep paying attention to the wind. We knew during the race there could be echelons. And then in the last 30km, the race was broken."
Once the day's breakaway was caught and the peloton hit heavier cross-tailwinds as they closed in on the mountains, havoc ensued and Najar's team put their masterful plan into action.
First, the team's Juan Pablo Dotti launched an attack, but that was quickly brought back. Najar, along with teammate Jose Rodriguez, soon jumped again. The duo rode together for a short time before Rodriguez dropped back, launching Najar on his solo ride. Sevilla's team and the others in the remaining lead group were caught off-guard.
"We were paying attention to Filippo Ganna and Rafal Majka because we thought they were the strongest riders," Sevilla said.
"I felt it was difficult for [Najar] to arrive here at the finish alone and win because in this kind of uphill where you can roll fast in a fast rhythm I thought we would catch him because we never stopped with our rhythm."
But Sevilla had underestimated the Argentinean champion.
"First Bora chased and then my team," Sevilla said. "We were confident at 30-40 seconds we could do it. We did everything possible to do it, and then 10km from the finish line we broke the group. But the thing is he was the strongest one today."
And the beat goes on
Sevilla, 41, once a Grand Tour contender and super-domestique for Jan Ullrich, has mirrored his contemporaries Paco Mancebo and Davide Rebellin - continuing to race for minor teams in far-off lands after running afoul of the anti-doping authorities.
Sevilla shows no sign of slowing down in his second year with the Colombian Continental team Medellin-Inter. He won the Vuelta Ciclista Comunidad de Madrid in 2017 and would like to add the Vuelta a San Juan to his palmares, but with just two relatively flat stages remaining, clawing back more than a minute on Najar would be tough. Nevertheless, he says he continues to race his bike because he simply loves to.
"I feel very proud and privileged to continue riding," he said. "I feel very young. I think the years are only on the passport, because my attitude, thoughts and feelings are like a 30-year-old.
"I am happy because I am here passing a lot of generations and also because I can be a competitive rider here," he said.
Sevilla said his passion for cycling is such that when he is not racing he spends his time watching other races on television. And he said he has no plans to give it up anytime soon.
"I don't know how long I will be riding," he said. "I only try to enjoy the cycling. The only thing I know is that I don't want to suffer in the races, and I don't want to see this as an obligation. It is a passion.
"I like to try to feature the young riders, and I feel very fortunate that in Colombia we have very talented young cyclists. And I think with my sport directors, we are together teaching a lot of young riders in Colombia."