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SANXENXO, Spain (VN) — Miguel Ángel López started the final road stage of the 2021 Vuelta a España riding in third overall.
The Colombian quit before it was over.
Poised for a podium spot going into the five-climb penultimate stage across Galicia, López was gapped early in Saturday’s rollercoaster stage.
Podium rival Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious) and Ineos Grenadiers split the GC group, with Movistar teammate and virtual second-place rider Enric Mas safely making the first group.
López did not or could not follow the accelerations, and got stuck in a group of chasers.
The gap widened, and López’s podium was slipping away with it.
“We saw that Roglič was going for me, and I had to follow, but I couldn’t pull because I had Miguel Ángel behind me,” said Movistar’s Enric Mas, who had journalists tell him at the line that López left the race. “I didn’t know anything about that. Even if López left the race, we can be happy with what we’ve done and hopefully a podium.”
The gap continued to balloon, and Haig bounced ahead of López on the virtual GC going into the finale.
Then the unexpected happened.
López stepped off his bike, apparently in a mix of frustration and anger. Though images were not captured on Spanish television, TV reporters said Movistar sport director Patxi Vila was trying to convince the Colombian to continue.
“I was in the group, but I don’t know what happened,” said Ineos Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal. “The told me over the radio that he pulled out. I feel sorry for him.”
It was no clear if López suffered a physical problem, but it did not appear so. There was no immediate word from team officials.
“I didn’t see it,” said Movistar’s José Joaquin Rojas. “When I arrived to the group of López, I thought they’d all be together, but then I tried to pull as hard as I could to get him back on the podium. I didn’t know he stepped off until they told me over the radio. To be honest, I was surprised myself. Everyone reacts differently to these kinds of situations. We all know he’s a big champion, but we can analyze this later and see if he had some problem with something.”
Movistar teammate Imanol Erviti also arrived, trying in vain to convince López, a winner Thursday at Gamoniteiru, to keep racing.
According to reports on Spanish TV, López angrily stepped off the bike and refused to keep racing. Video images captured López entering a Movistar Team car, and exiting the race.
Late Saturday evening, Colombian media cited unnamed sources suggesting that Movistar sport directors ordered López to stop chasing late in the stage for fear he would help the second chase group rejoin the leaders, where Mas was defending well against Roglič.
Movistar evidently feared that if Ineos Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal could rejoin the front group, the odds would be further stacked against Mas and his bid to retain second place, Colombian media said.
Under those orders, sources suggested, López became angry and pulled himself out of the Vuelta in protest.
Those reports remain unconfirmed, and there was still no official reaction from López or Movistar.