Vuelta a Espana
Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

López ready to push to new heights in Vuelta

Colombia's self-styled 'Superman' is poised to round out the Latin American grand tour sweep with a strong ride in Spain

Miguel Ángel López is ready to push the advantage in a mountainous Vuelta a España that could see the Colombian hit new heights.

The Astana captain, known throughout pro cycling by his nickname “Superman,” is quietly confident at the start of the season’s grand tour in a race packed with star Colombians. Third overall last year, López is coming off a strong first half of 2019.

After hitting podiums in both the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta last year, the 25-year-old is hopeful his time has come to win a grand tour.

“I hope to improve on my result from last year,” López said Thursday at the team presentation. “I’m ranking high with the bookies, which is normal, but we’re starting the race calmly. Let’s see where we can end up.”

That calm exterior defies López’s combative racing style. López has shown steady progress since turning pro in 2015, and seems poised for bettering his third place in last year’s Vuelta. In five grand tour starts, he’s finished worse than eighth in the four he’s concluded, including third at the 2018 Giro d’Italia. His Giro ambitions this spring were stymied by a string of bad luck and his seventh place overall did not fully reflect his level of fitness.

The absence of marquee headliners such as Chris Froome or Tom Dumoulin is raising expectations for a wide-open Vuelta, which kicks off Saturday with a team time trial.

“There are few ‘big names’ missing in this Vuelta, but there are some great riders here,” he said. “It’s true there are more options and there are some big possibilities [of victory].”

Of all the pre-race favorites, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Roglic) will have an advantage against the clock. Luckily for López and the other South American climbers, this Vuelta only features one test against the clock — 36km in Pau on stage 10.

“The [TT] will be an important stage and we hope there are not too many differences,” he said. “The mountains come later, and there are stages with more than 4,000 meters of vertical that suit me better. I think there will be terrain to play our cards.”

Supported by a strong Astana team, including veteran Jakob Fuglsang, López is ranking high among the pre-race favorites.

And with Latin American winners so far in the first two of the season’s grand tours, López is hoping to see the streak continue. And he’d love to be the one to do it.

“It would be incredible to do something like the British riders did last year,” he said, referring to the UK sweep of the 2018 grand tours. “That would be amazing.”

Colombia’s Superman seems overdue for breakthrough. This Vuelta could be his springboard.