Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) claimed the overall win at the Tour Colombia 2.1 on Sunday atop Alto las Palmas, taking third on the final stage behind Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Ivan Sosa (Team Sky) and beating Sosa by four seconds in the general classification.
But Lopez's win was really earned on Friday during the stage 4 circuit race in Medellín, where the 25-year-old Colombian infiltrated the day-long breakaway and claimed eight seconds in time bonuses at the intermediate sprints. Those bonus seconds proved to be the difference for the final podium.
"We knew from the beginning that this race was going to play out like the previous year, fighting for a few seconds, even in the bonuses, and that day in Medellín we raced intelligently and were able to get eight seconds, which proved invaluable in the end," Lopez said in the post-race press conference.
Not that Sunday's stage was without drama. Lopez and Sosa battled to the end for the overall, ceding the stage win to Quintana as the two played a game of cat and mouse that allowed the Movistar rider to catch and then overtake them after a careless spectator knocked Quintana out of the select four-rider group that also included Team Sky's Egan Bernal.
While Sosa's and Quintana's rhythms were interrupted as they had to clip out and put a foot down, Lopez and Bernal initially continued on until Bernal dropped back to pull his teammate back into contention for the overall. Sosa said he didn't notice the melee behind him as he drove the group and simply pressed on with his pace.
"Well, I didn't give much thought to that moment," he said. "I was pulling the group and I saw that a spectator had dropped his cell phone, but I didn't turn to look, and instead continued on with my rhythm."
After Bernal pulled Sosa back up to Lopez for a second time on the climb, he finally blew and left the duo alone at the front with Quintana, who had initially been with Sosa and Bernal as they chased back but lost the pace, chasing behind.
That's when Lopez sat up and tried to force Sosa into an attack. Sosa didn't bite, but the cat-and-mouse games allowed Quintana to get back on terms. The Movistar rider waited a brief moment, and then attacked and opened a gap on his two rivals. Quintana, who started the day more than a minute down on the GC, was not a real threat to the overall and simply rode away for the win.
Sosa eventually finished second and earned a six-second time bonus, while Lopez got four bonus seconds for third.
"We saw that Nairo was coming from behind, and I stopped," said Lopez, "because if Sosa wanted to win, he had to attack me. But he didn't, and so we went all the way to the end together. I had to keep my nerve and make sure I finished with him."
Lopez – or 'Superman' as he's often called by adoring fans – will be taking those nerves of steel to the Giro d'Italia this year as one of a dozen or so GC contenders who hope to bring home the Italian Grand Tour's maglia rosa in May.
"At the moment, I am 100 per cent going to the Giro and focused on doing it well, and then we we'll see what path to take – whether I then go on vacation. We'll see what happens," he said, alluding to whether he was also likely to ride the Tour de France, where Jakob Fuglsang is likely to be Astana's leader.
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