Miguel Angel Lopez probably hadn't heard Enric Mas' comments on Friday afternoon, but he seemed to answer the Spaniard's complaints with an and 'all or nothing' display of aggression on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana, which ultimately yielded a spot on the final podium.
"Lopez spent the whole of the stage on my wheel," Mas had complained at the top of the Coll de la Rabassa, Steven Kruijswijk having escaped up the road with Simon Yates to jump above both of them in the overall standings. "If he wants to put the 14 seconds into me he's not going to be able to do it riding like that. If you want to fight for the podium you have to fight well."
Lopez was indeed the most aggressive rider on the final meaningful stage, which packed six climbs into just 97 kilometres. Rather than second-placed Alejandro Valverde's Movistar teammates, it was Lopez's Astana team who sought to put Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates under pressure.
Lopez attacked with teammate Pello Bilbao and Omar Fraile on the second ascent of the Col de Beixalis with just under 40km to go. Though Adam Yates dragged him back, with the GC group by then well reduced, Lopez went again after the descent and just ahead of the penultimate climb of the Coll de la Comella. Joined by Nairo Quintana, the Colombian duo led over the top of the short climb, before Mas and Simon Yates joined them on the descent to make a lead group of four.
Lopez accelerated again on the final climb of the Coll de la Gallina and while Yates was distanced, Mas held firm, and the pair made their way to the finish together. Lopez was unable to distance the Spaniard and take the 14 seconds needed to surpass him on GC, but he was nevertheless rewarded with a spot on the podium after Valverde and Kruijswijk both struggled.
"It was all or nothing for me today as I wanted to reach the podium and it was my only goal today. Finishing fourth, fifth, or 10th, is all the same – the first three places are the most prestigious," Lopez said.
"Our tactic for today was to do all possible to get on the podium. I did all I could in this stage and I think we can be more than happy. I want to thank my team for a huge support today and during all this race.
"On the final climb I pushed as hard as I could, I did not think about the stage win because if I'd begun to play games I might have missed the GC podium. Of course, when we came to the finish I wanted to win a stage as well, I missed just a little in the final, but I gave my all, so I don't have anything to regret. My team and I did our best and we can be proud."
The Vuelta was Lopez's second podium finish of the season, replicating his third place from the Giro d'Italia in May.
In the early years of his career, he was held back by crashes and injuries but it has been a coming-of-age season for the 24-year-old, who has now set a benchmark and will have to upgrade his ambitions.
"In the Giro, I was able to share the podium with some of the greats of cycling and now I'm on the podium of the Vuelta," he said.
"A lot is expected of me in the future, and I have to keep working hard. Third at the Giro and third at the Vuelta is something big, but I've two steps left to climb."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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