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Colombians break out in Switzerland

Colombian compatriots Miguel Ángel López and Jarlinson Pantano put talents on display at Tour de Suisse

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Colombians keep coming out of the woodwork, and this weekend’s closing stage at the Tour de Suisse saw confirmation for two more “escarabajos” on the world stage.

Miguel Ángel López (Astana) secured the overall title with aggressive riding while Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) won the ninth and final stage Sunday. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Esteban Chaves (Orica – GreenEdge), and Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale) are already at the elite of the sport, but they may have to make room for more of their compatriots.

For the highly touted López, nicknamed Superman back in Colombia, the overall was confirmation that the 22-year-old seems destined for great things.

The spritely climber grabbed the leader’s jersey following Saturday’s time trial, and held a slender eight-second lead on Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) going into Sunday’s weather-shortened stage. Rather than wait for attacks, López bolted out of a dwindling GC group to catch everyone off-guard. He soloed over the summit, and was eventually caught by Pantano and other chasers. He came across the line fourth, and widened his final GC margin to 12 seconds to Ion Izagirre (Movistar) and 18 seconds to Warren Barguil (Giant – Alpecin). Talansky lost contact, and slipped to fifth at 1:04 back.

“I knew all my opponents would try to attack me, so then I decided to attack myself,” López said. “It worked out well.”

For López, the final-stage throw-down was typical of a rider who is not afraid of anyone or anything in the elite peloton.

The pint-sized climber is even smaller than Quintana and Chaves, and perhaps even more explosive. He won the 2014 Tour de l’Avenir — following in the footsteps of both Quintana and Chaves — and turned pro with Astana in 2015. He didn’t waste any time, winning a stage at the Vuelta a Burgos, and finishing seventh at the Tour de Suisse in his rookie season. This year, he’s posted steady results, including a third overall at the Tour of Langkawi, building his form to take leadership at the Tour de Suisse.

López won’t be heading to the Tour de France, at least not yet. He’ll race at the Tour of Austria in July, then he’s part of Colombia’s “dream team” selection of five riders for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, and will make his grand tour debut at the Vuelta a España in late August.

Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov is convinced that López has the right skillset to get even better, adding, “I believe he can win a grand tour in the future.”

Sunday was also a milestone for Pantano, a 27-year-old who’s been knocking around a few years. In 2015, he landed with IAM after solid results, but no wins, with Colombia-Coldeportes.

After descending the cold and frigid pass to link up with López, Pantano kicked to his first win in Europe as a pro, nabbing fourth overall as well.

“I must be dreaming, because on the descent, I could not feel my hands,” Pantano said. “I am the happiest man right now because I was able to give the team such a success after these difficult times.”

The victories will have immediate implications. Astana announced Monday it’s keeping López in their uniform for two more seasons, and it will help Pantano in his search for a new team as IAM is shuttering at the end of the season.

Their wins also confirm that the new wave of Colombian success in the peloton over the past half-decade or so just keeps getting deeper. There are now more than a dozen Colombians spread across the peloton, and there are more in the pipeline.