Juan Pedro López kept the maglia rosa for another day at the Giro d’Italia but as the high Alps appear on the horizon, the talented young Spaniard and his Trek-Segafredo team are aware their spell in pink could soon be over.
Yet both promised to fight to the very end, hoping to defend a good overall result for the Spanish rider and target stage victories in the final week of the Giro d'Italia.
“We’re all happy that Juanpe is still in the maglia rosa, he’s enjoying the happiest days of his cycling career. It’s been a great week for the team and for him,” Trek-Segafredo team manager Luca Guercilena told Tuttobiciweb.
“This Giro is hard and suits the pure climbers. Juanpe showed he can climb and fight with pride. He‘d prepared for this Giro and took his chance on Etna, taking the pink jersey. He was rewarded for his talents and courage.”
The 24-year-old Spaniard pulled on the maglia rosa after going in the break of the day to Mount Etna. Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) took the stage victory in a two-rider sprint but López had the consolation of pulling on pink. Since then, he and Trek-Segafredo have fought every day to defend it, with López making a huge effort on the Blockhaus mountain finish.
López leads Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) by just 12 seconds, with another overall contender João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) third in the same time and an on-form Romain Bardet (Team DSM) at just 14 seconds.
López will wear the maglia rosa for a ninth day on Friday as the Giro d’Italia races from Sanremo to Cuneo. His young face shows the joy and fatigue of race leadership but he is ready to face the unknown as he tries to defend the maglia rosa as long as possible.
“We’ll see what happens, take things day by day,” he says as a mantra.
“Friday is a day for sprinters, then we'll see after that. Saturday is a different day and we'll see what happens, taking things day by day. I feel more tired and I try to rest and recover as much as possible but I also try to enjoy every day.”
López has learnt to race as a team leader, thanking his teammates for doing his usual domestique role of keeping him well positioned and with all the food and drink he needs during every stage. He has made a name for himself and made history as the first Spaniard since Alberto Contador to wear the maglia rosa. Yet he refuses to change.
“For sure nothing has changed in my life, only my jersey is a different colour,” he insisted. “I’m the same person as three years ago when I turned professional. Whatever happens in the next few days, I’ll still be as happy as I am now, I’ll race with a smile on my face.”
Best finish at Grand Tour
Every day López manages to stay in pink, it increases his chances of bettering his 13th place at last year’s Vuelta a España, while conversely, the accumulated fatigue and weight of the maglia rosa could mean he is unable to stay in the overall classification in the final week.
“Whatever happens, we won’t cry about our possible failures, we’ll react and try to focus on the next chance,” Guercilena promised.
“The time gaps in the GC are pretty small but we’re going to try to defend the jersey as long as possible. Friday’s stage should not be a big problem but things will get tougher as we go into the weekend.
“We’re perhaps more worried about Saturday’s stage around Turin because of the way Grand Tours have been raced in recent years. The third week is often about control and defending GC positions, so the riders believe things could explode on Saturday. Then in the higher mountains on Sunday, it’ll be about who has the legs on longer climbs.”
Whatever happens in the days ahead, even if Juanpe loses the maglia rosa, we’ll race smart for stage victories and if possible to secure a top 10 overall.
"We’ll balance our efforts and not defend the jersey with everything we have, so it doesn't leave us without riders to go on the attack in the final week," Guercilena added.
"We’ll have to race smart while enjoying the moment just like Juanpe has done this last week.”
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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.