Óscar Sevilla: I hope Miguel Ángel López is treated differently than I was

Oscar Sevilla and Miguel Angel Lopez (Team Medellin-EPM) wear a jersey showing the flag of Argentina and the number 10 of Lionel Messi during the 39th Vuelta a San Juan International 2023
Oscar Sevilla and Miguel Angel Lopez (Team Medellin-EPM) wear a jersey showing the flag of Argentina and the number 10 of Lionel Messi during the 39th Vuelta a San Juan International 2023 (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

For now, Miguel Ángel López may describe his dismissal from Astana as a mere parenthesis and his time at Continental outfit Medellín-EPM as something of a gap year, but his new teammate Óscar Sevilla knows the realities of the plight.

Now 46 years of age, Sevilla turned professional with Kelme in 1998, but his career at the top level effectively ended with the Operación Puerto eight years later. The Spaniard didn't receive a formal suspension for his implication in the blood doping inquiry, but the damning, half-talk code of Dr Eufemiano Fuentes' files condemned him all the same.

After being fired by T-Mobile, Sevilla was persona non-grata among top-flight teams. He spent a year with Relax-GAM and two with American outfit Rock Racing with fellow Fuentes clients Tyler Hamilton and Santiago Botero as teammates. 

After meeting his now wife, he relocated to her native Colombia, where, despite a positive test for HES in 2010, he has extended his career and built a new life.

Sevilla doesn't view his banishment from European racing with any wailing or gnashing of teeth – "I'd have earned a lot more money, but I'd never have been as happy as I am now," he once said – but he is aware that his new teammate may not be as sanguine about his exclusion from the top table.

López was fired by Astana in December due to his links to Dr Marcos Maynar, who is at the centre of a drug-trafficking inquiry in Spain. After failing to find any suitors at WorldTour or Pro Continental level, López will spend 2023 with Medellín-EPM, with this week's Vuelta a San Juan likely to be the biggest race of his season. Once the doors to the WorldTour ease shut, they are, with rare exceptions, not readily pushed open again.

"I hope it's different for him than it was for me, I hope he is treated better and gets more understanding and that he can get rid of this thing," Sevilla said in San Juan. "I haven't spoken about it with him, but Miguel Ángel is young – he's still only 28 – and he has a long career ahead of him, so I hope it's nothing. I hope he can resolve the issues and get back to riding the biggest races."

López was provisionally suspended by Astana in July after he was questioned at length by Spain's Guardia Civil upon his arrival at the Madrid airport ahead of the Vuelta a Burgos. Astana later reinstated him in time for him to finish fourth overall at the Vuelta a España before terminating his contract in December.

The Colombian has not been charged by police or banned by the UCI – "My biological passport is immaculate," he insisted this week – but given the nature of the case, it was hardly a surprise that no WorldTour team saw fit to sign him, even on a reduced salary. López's compatriot Nairo Quintana finds himself in a roughly similar situation after his positive test for Tramadol on last year's Tour, and there is speculation that he will announce his retirement in a press conference scheduled for Wednesday.

"Miguel Ángel is in limbo, which is also what happened to us," Sevilla said. "It's not a formal thing: he hasn't been suspended by a judge or by the UCI or by anybody, so it's quite complicated. Let's hope in this case it can be resolved."

Alto Colorado

Three years ago, Sevilla placed third overall at the Vuelta a San Juan and the Spaniard spent much of the winter readying himself to test himself once more against a man half his age, the world champion and favourite Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep). The arrival of López changes Sevilla's place in the Medellín-EPM hierarchy, but it also raises the team's ambitions in Argentina.

At Saturday evening's presentation in San Juan, Sevilla, López et al delighted their hosts by wearing jerseys bearing the albiceleste stripes of the Argentinian football team, with 'Messi 10' printed on the back. The aim now is to put López in the white jersey of race leader after Friday's pivotal summit finish atop the Alto Colorado.

"It's been a surprise for us, as a Continental team, to have a rider who, for me, is in the top ten in the world. He's someone who has competed with Pogačar at the Tour de France and shown his quality in the Giro and the Vuelta," Sevilla said.

"We don't know how long he'll be with us for, maybe it's only going to be for this season, but we'll enjoy it while we can. The arrival of a rider like him turns us into a very powerful team, because he's rider who can win the Vuelta a San Juan. He's got the legs to compete with Egan Bernal and Remco Evenepoel here, I think he's at their level."

Sevilla, for his part, has yet to decide whether this season be his last as a rider, but a quarter of a century on from his professional debut at Kelme, he somehow retains the youthful features that earned him the moniker of El Niño.

"I feel like a kid with his Christmas present just starting another season and I'll go month by month and see what happens," said Sevilla, who found himself on the offensive early on stage 2 as the race climbed through the striking rock formation of Ischigualasto national park. The move petered out, but it was a show of intent all the same.

"It wasn't intentional, but we wanted to be in the front, as there was a crosswind and a dangerous descent coming up and it took away a lot of stress," he said at the finish in Jáchal. "We have a lot of respect for this race. We feel an obligation to put on a show."

Victories and spectacle alone, of course, won't get López back to the WorldTour. Sevilla knows that, too.

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Barry Ryan
Head of Features

Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation (opens in new tab), published by Gill Books.