The Colombian climbed off his bike and into a team car within the final 20 kilometres of the penultimate stage, after missing a decisive split that saw him forced to lead the chase alone as his podium position slipped away.
Mystery ensued as various reports swirled as to what was happening with the Colombian rider, and that mystery continued well beyond the finish line, but a report from Colombian newspaper El Tiempo suggested that he decided to pull out in anger due to Movistar team orders.
"They gave him the order not to chase," an unconfirmed source purported to be close to López told El Tiempo. "They didn't want him to keep pursuing and he didn't like that.
"He already spoke to his wife and that's what he told her. The directors scolded him because he was trying to get to the front group.
"He climbed off in a bad temper because he didn't agree with the decision of the directors."
During the stage, reports emerged that Movistar head of performance Patxi Vila and López's teammate had tried to persuade him to continue, while a video showed the Colombian speaking on his phone before getting into the team car.
López was part of a chase group that had missed a decisive split on the first-category Mougás with 55 kilometres still remaining on stage 20, and led the chase alone as he fell down the virtual general classification.
His Movistar teammates were unaware that he had abandoned the Vuelta a España when they reached the finish of stage 20. Enric Mas, López's co-leader who lies second overall and made the front group during the split on the Mougás, said he was completely unaware of the situation.
“He's out of the race? Did he crash?” Mas asked when told López had left the race, according to AS. “I don’t know anything. I haven’t been told anything.”
Mas had made that move when the group of overall contenders split following a period of sustained pressure by Ineos Grenadiers. He and race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) sailed clear with the trio of Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) Jack Haig, Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious), each of whom passed López on the virtual GC as the gap grew to over four minutes.
“I don’t know anything,” Mas added, before returning to the Movistar bus.
Jose Joaquín Rojas was similarly unable to shed any light on what had happened. The Spaniard had caught up with López when the Colombian decided to call off the chase of his vanishing podium hopes, and then set about pulling to “limit the losses”.
However, that chase would soon become futile, as López pulled to a stop, leaving the race a day before Sunday's finale in Santiago de Compostela.
“He was in the group, but I don’t know what happened. They said on the radio that he climbed off. I’m sorry for him,” Rojas said.
“He’s a great person and has shown that to everyone these last days. We’ll see what happened and we’ll talk. It was the first thing I was told when I finished, but I don’t know anything about it.”
Movistar have yet to issue any official communication relating to López’s exit from the Vuelta.
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