Miguel Angel Lopez probably hadn’t heard Enric Mas’ comments on Friday afternoon, but he seemed to answer the Spaniard’s complaints with an and ‘all or nothing’ display of aggression on the penultimate stage of the Vuelta a Espana, which ultimately yielded a spot on the final podium.
“Lopez spent the whole of the stage on my wheel,” Mas had complained at the top of the Coll de la Rabassa, Steven Kruijswijk having escaped up the road with Simon Yates to jump above both of them in the overall standings. “If he wants to put the 14 seconds into me he’s not going to be able to do it riding like that. If you want to fight for the podium you have to fight well.”
Lopez was indeed the most aggressive rider on the final meaningful stage, which packed six climbs into just 97 kilometres. Rather than second-placed Alejandro Valverde’s Movistar teammates, it was Lopez’s Astana team who sought to put Yates and his Mitchelton-Scott teammates under pressure.
Lopez attacked with teammate Pello Bilbao and Omar Fraile on the second ascent of the Col de Beixalis with just under 40km to go. Though Adam Yates dragged him back, with the GC group by then well reduced, Lopez went again after the descent and just ahead of the penultimate climb of the Coll de la Comella. Joined by Nairo Quintana, the Colombian duo led over the top of the short climb, before Mas and Simon Yates joined them on the descent to make a lead group of four.
Lopez accelerated again on the final climb of the Coll de la Gallina and while Yates was distanced, Mas held firm, and the pair made their way to the finish together. Lopez was unable to distance the Spaniard and take the 14 seconds needed to surpass him on GC, but he was nevertheless rewarded with a spot on the podium after Valverde and Kruijswijk both struggled.
“It was all or nothing for me today as I wanted to reach the podium and it was my only goal today. Finishing fourth, fifth, or 10th, is all the same – the first three places are the most prestigious,” Lopez said.
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