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Movistar manager says López's head 'disconnected' when he left Vuelta a España

Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenge 2021 3rd Edition Vaison la Romaine Mont Ventoux 153 km 08062021 Miguel Angel Lopez COL Movistar Team photo Luis Angel GomezBettiniPhoto2021
Miguel Angel Lopez left the Vuelta in a cloud of controversy (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué has shown a mixture of criticism and sympathy towards his rider Miguel Angel López 24 hours after the Colombian made a controversial exit from the Vuelta a España.

Lying third overall, López quit close to the finish of Saturday's stage 20 after missing a key split among the GC favourites and finding himself on the point of losing his podium position to another attacker Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious).

In a number of interviews with various media outlets on Sunday by different members of the Movistar staff and team, López himself defended his decision to quit, telling Spanish radio: "We’re human, not motors - we all have our motives and reasons for doing things."

His experienced teammate Imanol Erviti, who had tried to convince López to continue, told Spanish TV channel RTVE on Sunday evening after finishing the Vuelta that "the pressure is not easy and there’s a lot of pressure on riders, particularly if you’re leader.

"He couldn’t handle that moment and he took it badly. I’ve seen lots of things, I’ve seen riders have bad moments and so on, but I’ve never seen that. It’s unsettling."

Longstanding team manager Eusebio Unzué, who began directing his team in the early 1980s, told Spanish radio that he, too, "had never lived through a situation like yesterday’s in my entire career.

"But they’re humans, and he [López] couldn’t solve the problem that was created, when he couldn't close the gap on his rivals.

"His rivals took advantage of the gap they were opening up on him, above all Bahrain and this provoked a bit of frustration in him which he couldn’t handle. He could have told himself, 'Ok, there are three gone up the road, but I could fight for sixth or seventh'."

Unzué refused to comment on what Lopez’ future would be long-term in the team, saying that any decisions about the rider would be taken much further down the line when things had calmed down and the situation could be viewed more objectively.

He showed the same kind of even-handedness to the whole situation regarding the actual abandon, telling RTVE that "the sort of attitude he took cannot be justified. But it’s clear that the frustration and not feeling capable to be up there with the best was what caused him to sink. He couldn’t handle that moment and he sank.

"He reached a point where he couldn’t go on pedalling. His head disconnected."

Unzué insisted that there was a lot to celebrate about the Vuelta, despite "what happened on Saturday and our losing three riders of the quality of Alejandro [Valverde], [Johan] Jacobs, and Carlos Verona."

He pointed to López's victory on the queen stage, Enric Mas' likely second place on the final podium and Annemiek van Vleuten’s stunning victory in the Cerazit Challenge By La Vuelta.

However, he recognised that López's teammates were all very disappointed. 

"They spent three weeks working to keep him and Enric up front. But it’s true he went to the team yesterday and said he was sorry, he was aware he had not behaved correctly. But at that point he was incapable of going on pedalling and that’s all there is to it."

Summing up, Unzué concluded: "I think that great errors have one use, which is that they happen so that they are not repeated again. But it makes me very sorry that Miguel Angel has damaged the great image which he had managed to establish in this year’s Vuelta."

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.