Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué has seen it all in four decades of professional cycling, but he’s never seen anything quite like what he saw Saturday when Miguel Ángel López abruptly pulled out of the Vuelta a España.
The veteran Spanish manager was still reeling Sunday in the fallout of López’s sudden and unexpected departure from the Vuelta just 24 hours before.
“It was a difficult day, very complicated, and a situation that I’ve never had to deal with in all my sporting career,” Unzué told RTVE on Sunday. “Above all, it’s very sad, because Miguel Ángel was doing an incredible Vuelta.”
- Miguel Ángel López leaves Vuelta in a huff
- Commentary: López will regret Vuelta exit
- Coach says Movistar ordered López to stop riding
López has since apologized, but Unzué said the hasty exit and any possible consequences for López will be discussed with cooler heads in the coming days.
“We have to take a bit of time, so we can let a few days pass to reflect, and we can speak about it more tranquility,” Unzué said. “And then we’ll see what decision we take.”
Spanish and Colombian split over López’s hasty exit
The Colombian’s exit continued to rattle across the Vuelta following Sunday’s final time trial to close out the 2021 edition.
Movistar is a Spanish sponsor and the team’s service course and historic roots are in Pamplona, so it’s no surprise that many within the Spanish media are taking López to task for his angry exit.
Colombian media, meanwhile, is full of suggestions that Movistar was ordering López to stop pulling in order to better protect Enric Mas‘s second place on GC. There are even some whispers out of Colombia that the team didn’t want López to possibly bounce ahead of Mas in Sunday’s final time trial, and conspired against him.
Unzué was having none of that and diplomatically said that it was up to López to shut down the move when the gap split.
“It was him who had to close this small gap, and unfortunately he could not,” Unzué said. “This is what caused the situation and the later consequences.”
Riders did not say much about the incident Sunday. Mas said it was an internal team matter, and refused to comment.
Erviti Imanol, who tried in vain to convince López to carry on, said, “It’s hard to understand, but everyone deals with these situations differently. Some riders deal differently with the pressure of being a leader. [López] couldn’t manage that moment, and took it poorly. I’ve seen how riders deal with adversity, but I’ve never seen that. I was disconcerting.”
Unzué: ‘He could not close the gap’
Many were still in shock after witnessing López — who started Saturday in third place overall — angrily quit the race after he was gapped late on a day that promised to shake up the final podium spots.
López was unable to follow under accelerations from Bahrain Victorious that included eventual winner Primož Roglič, podium rival Jack Haig, and Movistar teammate Mas, among others.
Unzué had a front-row seat from within the Movistar car and described what led to López’s implosion.
“He had won an incredible stage 48 hours before in spectacular fashion and was coming close to the Vuelta podium, but the frustration was provoked after he could not follow the group where he needed to be,” Unzué told RTVE. “He tried but he could not close it, and this frustration blocked him and it stopped him from defending himself in the situation like he normally could.”
Movistar was already down to five riders, so Mas and López were on their while their direct rivals had the help of teammates. López found himself in a group of riders who didn’t have the legs to chase or did not work due to race dynamics with teammates up the road.
“The other riders attacked, and Bahrain Victorious reacted very well, and he could not take advantage in this key moment to close down the group,” Unzué said, before adding, “Then everything went to shit … ”
López later stepped off his bike and refused to carry on despite encouragement from Unzué, sport direct Patxi Vila, and teammate Imanol Erviti.
Unzué, who was the sport director for Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, said there was no convincing López to remain in the race.
“Bahrain was doing a great job, and everyone saw the rest of what happened,” he said. “From the car, we tried to help him make decisions, but in these moments, these comments that we were sending to him did not count for much.”