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Vuelta a Espana

Fallout for Miguel Ángel López could be costly as Movistar might reconsider contract extension

Movistar teammate Imanol Erviti said 'it was impossible' to convince López to try to finish the stage Saturday, while a Colombian senator blames Movistar.

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The fallout for Miguel Ángel López and his hasty exit from the Vuelta a España could have long-lasting impacts.

Reports in the Spanish media suggest that Movistar could revisit the recent two-year contract extension the team signed with López before the start of the Vuelta in August.

“Right now, we want to put some distance between all of this and any decisions that we will take,” team boss Eusebio Unzué told AS. “We’ll consider all of the options, and whatever decision we make, we will do later.”

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Unzué confirmed that López did not attend the team’s after-race party Sunday night to close out the Vuelta, where Enric Mas finished second overall.

When asked if Unzué is reconsidering López’s contract extension, Unzué was evasive. It’s not clear what language is included in the deal or if the ink is dry on the contract.

“That’s one of the options, that’s obvious,” Unzué told reporters Sunday in Santiago de Compostela. “We want to finish the Vuelta, study the situation, and then we can take whatever decision we can.”

López’s abrupt exit lit up the Vuelta when he abruptly stepped off his bike with about 20km to go in Saturday’s road stage, and the controversy has been in overdrive ever since.

Those close to López say the team ordered him to stop working, but Unzué, who was in the lead car that day, said they only asked López to stop pulling so hard at the front when none of the other riders in the group were helping in order to allow Movistar rider José Joaquín Rojas catch up and help.

“The teammates were disappointed,” Unzué said. “The guys rode their hearts out for three weeks to keep them ahead. It’s true that López had the humility to go to his teammates and to the auxiliary staff and ask forgiveness [Saturday night] and admit he shouldn’t have done it.”

Unzué said he’d never seen anything like in his four decades-plus in professional cycling to see a rider, who started the stage in third place overall, not at least finish the stage even if a podium spot was riding up the road.

“It’s something I’ve never experienced in my life. They’re humans,” Unzué offered. “He wasn’t able close this gap that his rivals took advantage of, and unfortunately all of this provoked frustration within him that he could not overcome. He could have fought for sixth or seventh, which would have still been important, even with the great Vuelta that he was having after winning [at Gamoniteiru] 48 hours earlier.”

Imanol Erviti: ‘I told him he would regret it’

Movistar Team rider Imanol Erviti also recounted what happened Saturday. Speaking to a local newspaper in Navarra, the Spanish veteran was also on the scene when López decided to quit, and tried in vain to convince him to continue.

“A soigneur told me, ‘stop! stop!, Miguel Ángel is there,” Imanol told the newspaper. “I asked him if he had crashed or if something was wrong. I stopped and I found he was bitter, angry, in crisis, upset with what had happened. I got off the bike and tried to convince him to continue in the race.

“I tried to convince him that he should do it for the commitment to the team, for his teammates who were there, and because he had also quit the Tour de France, he would regret it later,” Erviti said. “I tried to be as positive as possible, to try to encourage him to continue, but it was impossible.”

Erviti, who completed his 26th grand tour, also said he’d never seen anything like in his years of racing as a pro.

“You live through it with incredulity,” Erviti said. “To me, it seems something almost unreal.”

Óscar Pereiro: ‘Superman needed to be there’

Former Tour de France winner Óscar Pereiro, who designed Saturday’s stage that blew up the GC, said it was up to López to cover the late moves.

“I can understand how riders get upset, and how someone can get frustrated in the heat of the moment,” said Pereiro, a former Movistar rider. “When Unzué, [Patxi] Vila and [rider Imanol] Erviti cannot make you realize you’ve made a mistake, then you’re wrong.

“Enric didn’t do anything wrong,” Pereiro told La Voz de Galicia. “Superman had to be there with Haig and Yates. They attacked, and he wasn’t there. That was his mistake. The team was happy with him. He had just won the stage at Gamoniteiru, and everyone knew it was a season where things weren’t going as well as he had hoped. … The truth is that we’ve seen something we’ve never seen before, something that’s hard to understand in cycling, and it could be a before and after if you let it happen again.”

Meanwhile, in Colombia, fans and the media continue to back López.

Even a Colombian senator got into the game, urging Colombians to back López, blaming his exit on “bad decisions” made by the team … “just like what happened with Nairo [Quintana] and [Richard] Carapaz.”