Back home in Colombia, Miguel Ángel López is known as “Superman.” He earned the nickname fighting off bike thieves; he sustained a knife wound to the leg in the scuffle.
It’s not easy living up to the expectations of the western hemisphere’s most cycling-crazed nation, but Superman certainly looks the part.
A pint-sized 5-feet-7, with elite climbing chops, López emerged as a top prospect with a victory in the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir. He signed a pro contract with Astana for the following season and then confirmed his immense potential with a surprise overall win at the 2016 Tour de Suisse. A training crash that winter left him with a broken tibia and a derailed offseason.
López took another huge step forward at the 2017 Vuelta a España. He rode to two stage victories and eighth place overall in Spain.
He is looking to take another step up in 2018. The first item on his docket? The Giro d’Italia.
Time will tell if he can take up the mantle of Vincenzo Nibali and Fabio Aru for Astana. The talent is there and the team is fully behind him.
VeloNews caught up with López at the Tour of Oman — where he claimed the queen stage — ahead of his first ever Giro start.
VeloNews: What’s on your to-do list for 2018?
Miguel Ángel López: First I’ll make a bid for the general classification at the Giro and then I’ll try to be in the Vuelta and do my best. I haven’t done two grand tours in one year, but we’ll see how it goes.
VN: What do you make of the Giro field this year? Froome, Dumoulin, Aru — it seems like a strong one.
MAL: As far as the rivals, it’s just like always. They’re in every race. Better not to think about them. I mean, you have to think about them with the mentality of a competitor — that makes things easier. But if you think, ‘What about Nibali? What about Froome?’ or the other strong riders, you’ll say, ‘Oof, I don’t know if I can do a top 10.’ You’ll be afraid.
I don’t think so much about the rivals. I have them on my mind — I admire them, I respect them all, but you can’t have a mentality like, ‘Froome has won all these races so we’re just fighting for second place.’ That mentality, I don’t know … They’re just riders pedaling their bikes the same as you. Some pedal better than others, but we’re all human and nothing more.
VN: You’ve made a name for yourself as an aggressive climber, taking your greatest wins with big attacks in the mountains. Is it important for you to be an attacking rider, to give the fans a show?
MAL: If you want to win, you have to attack and find gaps. In my case, I think, my mentality has to be that, and I work towards that. And that makes for a better spectacle for the people — the attacks and everything. If you ride in the wheels, where are you going to win? Maybe you keep climbing and eventually end up alone by sheer pace, but I think races are won attacking.
VN: What did you learn about yourself racing last year’s Vuelta?
MAL: Going into the Vuelta, I was just going to see how it turned out because I hadn’t prepared that well. I hadn’t had enough racing days to have the legs and condition the way they should have been. But I think maybe being a young rider… or I don’t know what it was, but my condition got better and better. The first two weeks I suffered a bit, but I was able to keep going and that let me strike a big blow twice in the last 10 days.
VN: What have you worked on since then to prepare for the grand tours this year?
MAL: I’ve been focusing a bit more on the TT bike. The team did a test to perfect our positioning. The team is also working on the helmet. And then a few little things that in the end will help, and might make big differences.
Also a bit more rest. I arrived to the season without much stress, without much riding. Of course, last year I was pretty relaxed, not riding at all because of the injury! But in comparison to other years like 2016, 2015, in November I was on the bike, but I was much more relaxed.
VN: And off the bike? How do you spend your free time?
MAL: I like being with my family. During the year, we spend so much time in Europe for the races and everything, there’s not much time to see the family. You have to do it when you can. I also do some mountain biking, up there in the mountains [at home in Boyacá]. Plus, I like to fish. It’s peaceful — in the rivers, in the lakes, all that peace and quiet.