A little in terms of time but a lot in terms of morale and positive feelings about his condition could sum up what Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) gained from his late attack in the Vuelta a España’s stage 14 summit finish at Pico Villuercas.
The Colombian surged away three kilometres from the line and despite the strong headwind quickly opened up a sizable gap as Jumbo-Visma climber Sepp Kuss pushed to keep his leader and top favourite Primoz Roglic in contention.
However, a late counter-move by Roglic quickly shredded that advantage and had the finish line been a little further on, it might well have evaporated completely.
As it was, Lopez had gained four seconds on a select group of chasers including Roglic, Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and the Colombian’s teammate Enric Mas, while Adam Yates (Ineos-Grenadiers) was a further 12 seconds adrift.
It was a situation bearing strong parallels to Mas’ attack on the Picón Blanco, the first summit finish of the race on stage three. On Picón Blanco, the Spaniard was the only GC contender to manage to go clear and ultimately only gained three seconds on Roglic and the rest of his rivals.
But Lopez echoed Mas words after that stage that the most important conclusion from his attack was not the time gain itself, but how he had felt while fighting to gain it.
“It was only a few seconds difference, but what mattered were my sensations,” López, third overall and 1-28 down on Roglic, told reporters afterward.
“At some points the gap went up to 20 seconds, but with the strong headwind in some parts of that final segment, it was difficult to open up a gap by myself. Still, things went pretty well and there’s more mountain climbing tomorrow [Sunday].”
As for why the GC race had barely caught fire despite the opportunities offered by such a difficult final 60 kilometres, López said “we’re all starting to feel tired. There have been days, above all the last few, in which the first part of the stage we’ve gone flat out and the break’s taken up to 100 kilometres to form.
“Add in the heat and that’s made us more tired, even if the weather is the same for everybody.
“But I’m happy about what’s coming up in the race after such a hard day, we’ve got some really spectacular stages coming up soon.”
After several stages in which Enric Mas has seemed the stronger of the two Movistar leaders, López impressive finish is a reminder, too, that the Spanish team has two dangerous GC cards to play in the Vuelta a España. In the mountains of Asturias in the third week, when it comes to tackling Roglic, or attempting to tackle him, that ability to launch a two-pronged attack may well be crucial.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 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. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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