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López on Italian desserts, Valverde, football - and strong maglia rosa defence

Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo)
Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) (Image credit: Getty Images)

He may be happy to talk about Sicilian desserts, his idol Alejandro Valverde and his past as a footballer with the press, but amidst the friendly chit-chat Giro d’Italia  leader Juan Pedro López (Trek-Segafredo) has also promised he will go down with all guns blazing in his defence of the maglia rosa.

López claimed the lead on the summit of Mount Etna, following the wheel tracks of his mentor and former team boss Alberto Contador as he did so, which obviously indicates the 24-year-old from southern Spain may be difficult to shake off on the upcoming climbing challenges.

But whether his talent for going uphill will prove enough for him to retain the maglia rosa on the next three tough days across southern and central Italy, starting with Friday’s stage 7 climb-a-thon to Potenza, is much harder to predict.

From south-western Spain, López currently holds a relatively-narrow lead on GC of 38 seconds advantage over Etna breakaway companion Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe), 58 seconds on Rein Taaramäe (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and 1:42 on Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco).

And tomorrow’s marathon stage through the hills and mountains of southern Italy, followed by a punchy, hilly circuit stage in Naples on Saturday and a dauntingly-difficult summit finish on the Blockhaus on Sunday, could see that time gap quickly destroyed.

Even so, López was resolutely upbeat after his third day in pink on Thursday, telling reporters he would “defend the jersey with everything I’ve got. Defending it each stage is never easy, but I will give it 200%. They won’t take it away from me that easily.”

A big fan of football and local Primera Liga-side Betis in particular, López was also asked about his past as a soccer player, something he has in common with Belgian talent Remco Evenepoel, and why he had switched to cycling. It was, it emerged, because he had needed to shed weight. 

“I was 10 to 12 kilos over what I should have been and my father, who likes cycling, got me to go on the rollers to help bring the weight down,” López said. “Then we went out training together, and I got hooked on cycling again.” 

Whilst on the subject of food, he also confirmed to another journalist that an Italian member of the Trek-Segafredo team staff has been cooking an excellent Sicilian dessert, cassata, as a treat for taking the race lead, “and it’s absolutely delicious.”

With journalists keen to establish more personal background of a rider who has yet to win a race as a pro, a López trivia fun fact number three to emerge was that while he has clear links to Alberto Contador, he has always also been a fan of Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.

“We talked a lot during these last two days, and I also congratulated [Movistar racer] Jose Joaquin Rojas on his new child, which was born last night,” López said. “But in any case, the Movistar guys are all friends. As soon as the stages are over, I always ride across to their bus to have a quick natter.”

To get back to cycling, long-term, López has said repeatedly that his Giro goal is to work for teammate Giulio Ciccone, currently lying at 2:32. And even on Friday’s ultra-sleepy stage, Kämna’s swooping to snatch a second at a bonus sprint was a warning shot to the Spaniard that he is constantly under threat.

“I don’t know why the stage was so easy, for sure I enjoyed it,” López added. “Maybe because we all knew it would be a sprint finish and the sprinters’ teams kept it all under control. For sure, Friday will be harder, but we’re ready.”

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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.