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CATANIA, Sicily (VN) – Miguel Ángel López’s podium dream sits in the balance just 72 hours into the Giro d’Italia.
Already at 53 seconds back on GC leader Mathieu van der Poel and 42 down on Simon Yates, the best-placed of the true GC contenders, he will need to fly high on Etna’s slopes to keep himself anywhere in range of the rosa jersey.
The first summit finish of this year’s Giro will show whether López’s big ambition in his return to Astana-Qazaqstan will remain a dream or could become reality.
“The Giro is my target for this season and I’m coming into good shape, so I’m feeling positive about the result of the whole race, as well as the opportunity to win a stage,” he told Marca.
“I have won stages in both the Tour and the Vuelta, but not in the Giro, until now. Not everyone would aspire to win a stage in the ‘big three’ and, obviously, the main objective has to be the general classification. Five years ago I stood on the podium and it is a moment that I would like to relive.”
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Racing for his first season since returning to Astana-Qazaqstan after his high-profile, high-drama fallout with Movistar, López is looking to Italy to hit his highs of 2018.
Third-place finishes at both the Giro and Vuelta a España that year put the Colombian climber in range of classification-crushing compatriots Egan Bernal and Nairo Quintana.
A string of three DNFs at his past three grand tours saw López in limbo. The turbulent abandon from last year’s Vuelta and the resulting rapid exit from Movistar put the Colombian in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
But his return to the Kazakh crew has rekindled his mojo. “It is forgotten. It’s past,” he said of his Movistar departure.
“Returning to Astana, which I consider to be my home, has given me peace of mind. I am happy in this team. I think I have started the season well.”
Superman and the Shark
Tuesday’s summit could make or break the race for López. A lack of high-altitude slopes through this year’s Giro means the altitude native needs to move whenever the terrain allows.
With co-captain Vincenzo Nibali poised in close biting range of the pink jersey at 30 seconds on Yates, Astana-Qazaqstan has two pawns in the game.
“Nibali will nearly be racing at home, so he’s extra motivated,” López said. “He’s in good condition and he comes here pretty strong. It’s important if we can be there together going into Mount Etna.”
The extent that the aging Italian and his volatile sidekick coalesce on Etna on Tuesday and through this year’s Giro could prove crucial to both their success.
López wouldn’t be drawn on who takes the captain’s armband for this year’s race.
“I leave with the motivation to go for the podium. Then the race puts everyone in their place,” he said of the team’s tactical one-two. “We want to get a great result for Astana, that’s the important thing.”
Can they fly high together or will they swim into choppy waters? What happens on Etna may show how far they both can go in this year’s Giro.