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López apologies to Oomen after bidon incident on Blockhaus

Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) held onto the Giro d'Italia lead by 12 seconds on stage 9
Juan Pedro Lopez (Trek-Segafredo) held onto the Giro d'Italia lead by 12 seconds on stage 9 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

When the first Giro d'Italia racers reached the summit of the Blockhaus on Sunday and journalists at the finish line poured onto the finish area to grab instant reactions, just one figure remained glued to the TV screen in the suddenly completely empty media enclosure.

Trek-Segafredo press officer Paolo Barbieri was waiting patiently for Giro d'Italia maglia rosa Juan Pedro López to cross the line to see whether the Spaniard, who had fallen behind with some eight kilometres still to climb, had managed to retain the lead that he had been so widely predicted to lose.

Exactly one minute and 46 seconds after stage winner Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) crossed the line, López made it home, and after some hasty mathematics, it became clear that López's gutsy defence had enabled him to maintain the race lead by 12 seconds over the closest pursuer, João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates), for a sixth day.

That's a considerably narrower margin than the 38 seconds that Lopez had enjoyed on Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) before the stage. But just managing to stay in the lead on a climb which poleaxed so many of the GC favourites was a massively notable achievement.

Apart from celebrating, López was at pains to make a public apology to Jumbo-Visma rider Sam Oomen after the two touched wheels on the Blockhaus. The incident saw the Trek-Segafredo rider briefly put a foot on the ground and fling a bidon in frustration.

But in the broader scheme of things López also expressed delight and disbelief at his maintaining the pink jersey for another day, particularly after a stage that had witnessed such a ferocious GC battle.

"This is my first Giro and I never expected to get the maglia, so it's hard to believe I still have it," López told reporters. "I'm very tired, but fortunately there's a rest day tomorrow [Monday]."

Referring to his brief collision with Oomen, he said, "I felt good, but I was close to crashing and that was hard on my head. I had to stay concentrated and keep my head focussed on the race."

The Blockhaus stage also saw López confirmed as sole GC leader for the Trek-Segafredo squad as pre-race contender Giulio Ciccone cracked at the foot of the Blockhaus, losing nearly ten minutes. López had repeatedly promised he would work for Ciccone whenever that proved necessary, but that will obviously no longer be the case.

"You never know what he can do, he's had a bad day today, but I'm sure he'll be able to turn things around in the days to come," López said. "So we'll see how it goes."

As for López's battles in the rest of the Giro, the similarities between López and the man now behind him on GC, Almeida, are steadily increasing with each day the Spaniard spends in pink.

In 2020, Almeida also took the pink jersey on the Etna and the Portuguese held onto the lead against all odds for over a fortnight. Fast forward two years and after the Blockhaus and barring major upsets, López could well remain in the maglia rosa at least until the race hits the Alps next weekend.

For now, in any case, López seems content with his monumental achievement of holding onto pink on the Blockhaus.

"When I started this stage my dream was to have the pink jersey for just one more day, " he said, "And now it's come true."

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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.