A surging late attack close to the summit of the Gamoniteiru by Miguel Ángel López has both netted the Colombian the third Vuelta a España stage victory of his career and considerably strengthened his grip on his third place overall. The solo win on stage 18 also meant much more than that for the 27-year-old Movistar racer.
After his victory on Col de la Loze in the 2020 Tour de France, López has now claimed Queen stages in two out of three of cycling’s Grand Tours, as well as Movistar’s first stage win in a Grand Tour this season.
As if that was not all, López has also proved that his difficult first half of the season, as well as a tough end to 2020, is history. Factor in a recently signed renewal of his contract in Movistar and the Colombian’s future, as well as his present, is looking good.
López's victory also represented a triumph for Movistar on a day that did not start well following the DNS of teammate Carlos Verona on stage 18.
“There are only five of us in the Vuelta for Movistar now,” López pointed out in his press conference, “but we did a great job all around.
“I’m very pleased with how I raced. I haven’t won for four years in the Vuelta, when I took two stages back in 2017, and I’ve won on a very important day.”
At the mist-enshrouded summit of the Gamoniteiru, López has a 14-second advantage on race leader Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) plus the time bonus have allowed him to make a slight inroad into the Slovenian’s GC advantage.
Given Roglič’s current iron grip on the race, the minute that López gained on Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), considerably strengthened his third place overall, and was arguably much more important long-term.
At the same time Enric Mas has distanced Haig after following Roglič’s late counter-move behind López, simultaneously boosting his chances of staying second all the way to Santiago. Yet another reason, then, to qualify stage 18 as the best day of the 2021 Vuelta a España for Movistar, and by extension in all three of the Grand Tours this year.
For López, a stage victory in the Vuelta has confirmed he has put a difficult chapter of his career behind him, too. First there was a bad crash and abandon on the first day of the Giro d’Italia last autumn followed by an unwelcome encounter with COVID-19 over the winter, and a crash-ridden Tour as well.
“This victory means a lot for us,” López said. “Only those of us who are inside the team know how much hard work and suffering we go through day by day. Without the sponsors, the staff, our manager Eusebio [Unzue], this wouldn’t be possible.
“I’m not just talking for its own sake. We put on a good show today and we can head for home satisfied with the wonderful job our teammates have done.
“We knew it was an important day for the overall, and this time I’ve taken gives us a little bit more room for manoeuvre to feel calm about what we have left to come.”
Tellingly, López and Mas both confirmed that the Colombian had attacked, rather than Mas, because he represented less of a threat to Roglič, and therefore would not be subject to as much control.
Perhaps unsurprisingly after his victory at Covadonga on Wednesday, it seems Roglič’s domination has now reached a point where it is all but taken for granted.
“We knew that if I went for it, the most probable result would be that Primož would chase me down, while Miguel Angel would get enough of a gap to get the stage,” Mas said. “And once he’d gone, although I was keen to attack myself, I had to respect his attack. He’s won the stage and we can all be extremely satisfied with that.”
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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