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It isn’t as if Miguel Ángel López is the accidental leader of the 2019 Vuelta a España, but, well, he kind of is.
Opening day mishaps marked the outcome of the team time trial Saturday and helped nudge López into the red leader’s jersey. It’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it, or if he’ll likely end up wearing it deeper in the race, but Saturday’s outcome could have been very different.
A crash by Jumbo-Visma knocked down the pre-race favorite Primoz Roglic on a slippery corner, and an on-course traffic jam late in the race held up an equally fast Deceuninck-Quick-Step. Philippe Gilbert grumbled on Twitter that a Jumbo-Visma car interrupted their rhythm and insisted it cost them a chance for victory. Indeed, the Belgians were just two seconds slower than Astana.
A superb effort by the team today, but in the end we just missed out on the win and the red jersey because of the Jumbo Visma car who was still standing in our way. Such a shame! 😤😣 #LaVuelta19 #season17 #TTT
— Philippe Gilbert (@PhilippeGilbert) August 24, 2019
“There were many incidents on the course that were out of our control, and these impacted on the outcome,” said Deceuninck-Quick-Step sport director Wilfried Peeters diplomatically. “We would have liked to win, but at the end of the day, we are happy that nobody crashed.”
That certainly wasn’t the case for Jumbo-Visma. Riders slid out on a corner that was slicked up by water, catching everyone by surprise on a day that was white-hot with bleating sun and gusting winds. It was the same corner that saw UAE-Emirates also hit the deck. Apparently, a kid playing in an inflatable pool in a nearby garden had popped, sending gallons of water suddenly gushing down onto the course.
Bad luck for Jumbo-Visma. Riders slammed into the fences, including pre-race favorite Primoz Roglic. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, but it took everyone awhile to remount and regain their collective speed.
“We were riding full-speed toward that bend when things went sideways,” Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin said. “There was no way to avoid it. We couldn’t react in time, and the guys in the front slipped on the wet road surface.”
Astana was already safely across the line with the best. Anchored by Jakob Fuglsang, Luís León Sánchez, and the Izagirre brothers, López was a happy passenger on the Astana bullet train. López, first across the line, sat nervously in the hot seat.
After racing through what seemed to be an endless string of bad luck and mechanicals at the Giro d’Italia, luck stayed on his side this time. Perhaps what was a surprise even to him, he ended up wearing the Vuelta’s leader’s jersey.
López said it was by chance that he led his teammates across the line. An accidental leader? Maybe, but he enters this Vuelta in great form and vowing to keep it as long as it is reasonable, without ceding time to direct GC rivals.
“We did everything right,” he said. “There was no decision on who would cross first — it just happened in the moment. We’ll take things calmly. I have a great team to support me.”
Grand tours are often won and lost by luck, and twists of fate. A good start could bear fruit weeks down the road. López is certainly hoping it won’t be accidental if he’s back in red when the Vuelta end in Madrid on September 15.