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Giro d'Italia

Can Juan Pedro López pull a ‘Chiappucci’ in this Giro d’Italia?

The Trek-Segafredo rider follows a long tradition of surprise early leaders who go deep in a grand tour.

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Juan Pedro López went to the beach Monday, and brought his pink jersey with him.

The largely unknown Trek-Segafredo rider is making a name for himself during this Giro d’Italia with his gritty defense of the maglia rosa.

With a relatively routine week ahead of the peloton, López might be carrying pink all the way into next weekend.

How far can López go in this Giro? Right now, he’s just savoring the moment.

“I will defend the pink jersey until the very last kilometer that I can,” López said. “I am going to take it day by day, and enjoy every moment I am in the pink jersey. It’s something that I never even dreamed of in my career.”

The 24-year-old from a town near Sevilla in southern Spain is finding wings with the pink jersey.

After taking it on Mount Etna in stage 4 when he rode to second out of a breakaway, López is riding with the panache of a cagey veteran. Though he’s never won a professional race, he’s proving there’s more to the young climber.

His gritty defense Sunday on Blockhaus revealed a steely focus that could carry him far in this Giro.

“I am not putting any clear objective on the race, but I would like to defend my GC position, perhaps even finish in the t0p-5 would be something incredible,” he said. “I also would like to fight for the final podium in the best young rider’s jersey, but so is [João] Almeida. We will see.”

The unsung López follows in a long line of so-called “place-holder” race leaders who eventually rode the wings of a leader’s jersey much further than anyone could have expected.

In fact, Almeida himself was a bit of a surprise in 2020 when he took pink early, and held it for two weeks to finish fourth overall. The young Portuguese rider, however, was already a highly touted prospect and had won races before his Giro debut two years ago.

López follows in a long line of so-called ‘place-holder’ race leaders

Juan Pedro López knows his days in pink will eventually end. (Photo: LUCA BETTINI/AFP via Getty Images)

Cycling’s history is full of riders who either took big gains in breakaways or surprised early with a leader’s jersey only to hold on deep into the race.

Thomas De Gendt, a stage-winner last week in this Giro, rode out of a big breakaway in the 2012 Giro to win atop the Stelvio to secure a third place in that year’s Giro. He’s never finished better than 40th in a grand tour since.

Claudio Chiappucci nearly won the 1990 Tour de France after gaining 10 minutes in an opening stage early breakaway, and he eventually finished second in Paris to Greg LeMond who only overtook him on the closing time trial.

In the 2003 Vuelta a España, Isidro Nozal snatched the red jersey in the first week thanks to a strong opening team time trial, and only succumbed to eventual winner Roberto Heras in a closing climbing time trial on the Vuelta’s penultimate stage.

Some of those riders never figured in the GC again of a grand tour. Others, like Almeida or Simon Yates, who took pink early in 2018 and later won that year’s Vuelta a España, grew to be confirmed team captains.

Could López do something similar?

With designated GC captain Giulio Ciccone struggling, Trek-Segafredo is now working for López. The team gave him the green light to defend his pink jersey Sunday at Blockhaus, and rode tempo early in the stage to control a breakaway to keep him within range of a defense.

López, who raced on Alberto Contador’s development team before signing on with Trek-Segafredo in 2020, is hoping his magic ride lasts into the Giro’s final week.

“This is a dream for me. I cannot believe what is happening,” he said. “I didn’t believe I would still be in the pink jersey after Blockhaus. Now I will enjoy every moment and fight in every kilometer.”

At some point in this Giro, his rivals will work to eliminate him. If they don’t, López could become a serious problem.