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Juan López following mentor Contador's wheel tracks in Giro d'Italia

Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) wears the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia
Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) wears the maglia rosa at the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: Getty Images)

For Spain’s Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo), taking the pink jersey on the summit of Mount Etna represented the pinnacle of his career to date. It also took him back to his cycling roots with Spanish racing star Alberto Contador.

Contador is not only the previous Spanish winner and race leader of the Giro d’Italia, back in 2015, but El Pistolero also triumphed on Mount Etna in 2011, albeit losing that victory as a result of his doping ban.

López was also part of Contador’s newly formed professional team, the Continental level squad Polartec-Kometa, from midway through 2018 after winning top amateur races in Spain like the Vuelta a Bidasoa. Before that, the 24-year-old from Andalucia in southern Spain cut his teeth as a junior with Contador’s cycling Foundation. The team was based in Contador's home town of Pinto and had been created to help foster young talent in Spain’s disintegrating and economically starved amateur scene.

Proof of the success of that particular project was there for all to see on Tuesday afternoon on the Etna, as López broke away with some 12 kilometres left to race and despite being caught by stage winner Lennard Kamna (Bora-hansgrohe), stayed in contact with the German to seize the lead.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to has talked to me about Contador,” López, who rocketed from 47th overall to first on the summit of the Sicilian volcano, told reporters with a grin afterwards. 

“And certainly to wear the pink jersey like he did is an incredible feeling.”

Jacinto Vidarte, both a former press officer for Contador and the Foundation told Cyclingnews on Tuesday after Lopez had won stage 4 that he had been one of the top riders .

“When Lopez joined the Foundation he was one of the best in the team. The first time he was in Italy with the squad, he rode up the Stelvio with Alberto. He was still a little bit on the heavy  side and everybody told him he had to slim down. But he was clearly a huge talent.”

López, the 17th Spaniard to wear pink in the Giro d’Italia, is universally known as Juanpe, an abbreviation of his two first names. He admitted afterwards the stage that he didn't see Contador's win on Mount Etna.

“I didn't see the Giro on TV when Contador won here in 2011, because I started cycling really late. But for sure I saw some videos of how it all happened later on.

“And I didn’t know the climb at all, either, but I was in the break and the team director told me over the radio what it was like and I tried to get away on the hardest part.

“I had no idea if I would be able to stay away, but after I got past [early attacker Stefano] Oldano my confidence grew a bit. Then Kämna caught me late on, but I could stay in contact.

“I have no idea how long I can lead this race for,” López said honestly, although his current margin of 39 seconds on Kämna is hardly a slender one. “I’ll just have to take it day by day and see how it goes.”

Before leaving for Italy, López reportedly had promised his father that he would go all out on the Etna and he was certainly as good as his word. But few would have imagined that the 24-year-old, yet to take a single victory as a pro, would succeed in such dramatic style on the slopes of the Sicilian volcano.

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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.