Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) shortly after winning stage 18 of the Vuelta a España.

After missing the decisive GC move, López left the Vuelta in dramatic fashion

Miguel Ángel López started stage 20 in third overall and ended it in the team car: 'I decided to stop fighting a battle that was all but lost.'

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Movistar co-leader Miguel Ángel López started stage 20 comfortably sitting in third overall, but after being ridden off the GC podium by a vigilant and determined Bahrain-Victorious team, López took his unceremonious exit into his own hands and left the race in a team car.

“As most of you have seen, the moment when the group split was a difficult situation, hard to resolve,” López said in a team announcement Saturday evening. “We saw ourselves getting into a difficult position when some of the best in the GC went ahead of us; Bahrain [Victorious] played its cards well, and it’s hard to close a gap like that, even if it’s small, at this point of the Vuelta. Legs are so tired, the level is so high, and obviously, no one was going to help us out closing that small gap in that moment. It took long for us to react. There were so many factors involved and, in the end, it’s sad to see La Vuelta ending for me this way.”

The stage 18 winner had missed the decisive GC attack just inside the last 60 km of the stage and the makeup of his split meant that the chase was up to him and him alone. Even Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) wouldn’t help him out, as his teammate Adam Yates had launched the move that took Jack Haig and Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious) up the road with Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Enric Mas (Movistar).

Haig started the day in fourth, 1:43 behind the Colombian, and once the small red jersey group started scooping up breakaway riders, including Bahrain-Victorious rider Mark Padun – even fellow Australian Nick Schultz (BikeExchange) could be seen among Haig’s teammates – their advantage over the López group only got bigger. Even his Movistar teammate José Joaquim Rojas couldn’t do much to stem the damage once the group had swollen with riders dropped during the earlier accelerations.

It was hard to tell exactly when or why López left the race, but he was already approaching eight minutes behind his nearest rivals when the rumours began with about 30 km to go. Maybe he was unwell – with a little over 60 km left of the Vuelta including Sunday’s final time trial, why else would he stop? But all we knew for sure at the time was that Movistar’s head of performance Patxi Vila was seen trying to persuade him to continue before the 27-year-old climbed into the team car, which he did while engaged in a curiously timed phone call.

After the stage, unconfirmed reports via Colombian media suggested that López had pulled out in anger after the team ordered him to stop chasing. He had apparently pulled over and sat down on the side of the road for several minutes. Teammate Imanol Erviti was seen trying to get him going again, but he subsequently stopped completely, which is where the story picks up at the team car.

JJ Rojas, the veteran Spaniard often called upon to control the peloton, and who joined López in the chase group, is still unsure what happened.

“He was in the group, but I don’t know what happened,” Rojas said. “They said on the radio that he climbed off. I’m sorry for him. He’s a great person and has shown that to everyone these last days. We’ll see what happened and we’ll talk. It was the first thing I was told when I finished, but I don’t know anything about it.”

It wasn’t until late evening that López had his say on the event, putting an end to the speculation.

“It was an uncomfortable and complex situation,” López told Carrusel (the full interview can be heard in Spanish here). “Why did I get off my bike? We are human beings, not machines. Sometimes we are flesh and blood. I only have to apologise to my teammates and the fans. The mistake was not finishing.”

The Colombian was asked about his future, bearing in mind that he recently signed an extension that will (should) see him ride with the Spanish team through to the end of 2023. His response was simple: “At the moment I have a contract with Movistar and I’m still here.”

A short while later, Movistar published a statement recorded by López, explaining what had happened and apologising to his team, his fans and the Vuelta organisers.

In short: “I decided to stop fighting a battle which was all but lost.”

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