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Miguel Ángel López at Movistar: A future triumph or one of a doomed ‘trident’?

López is following the path of countryman Nairo Quintana in joining Movistar. Will he repeat Quintana's grand tour glories or just fill his place as a tactical pawn?

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Due to the cancelation of last week’s Colombia Tour 2.1, we have a host of features, interviews, photo galleries, and other stories to celebrate Colombian cycling as part of “Colombia Week.”

Miguel Ángel López could become legend or laughing stock at Team Movistar.

Always the nearly-man of the peloton’s illustrious Colombian cohort, “Superman” is following in the footsteps of double grand tour winning Nairo Quintana in becoming a south American star at the very Spanish Movistar team in 2021. And like Quintana during his eight-year spell at Movistar before joining Arkéa-Samsic, López could thrive or nosedive at his new team.

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López has long teetered on the edge of greatness, twice hitting the grand tour podium in 2018 and finishing in the top-7 in the three grand tours he’s finished since. Yet, somehow, at Astana, it seemed doomed to fail. Elbowing for room alongside established captain Jakob Fuglsang on a team unable to match the heft of Ineos or Jumbo-Visma, López surfed for scraps.

At Team Movistar, López will join a cast of Spanish speakers that is uttering a script he wants to hear. GC wins are everything, and it has a long history of success over three weeks.

“Miguel Ángel López’s signing marks a really important addition to our men’s team,” said team manager Eusebio Unzué when he signed the Colombian. “He’s someone who knows well what it takes to step onto the podium of the grand tours. His addition to the team further bolsters our potential for the big tours in 2021.”

With the support of Spanish talents Enric Mas and Marc Soler and years of know-how in the team car, López could finally unlock his big win with Movistar. It would give Unzué the success he’s been hunting since Quintana took the Spanish stalwarts to triumph in 2016 and see “Superman” step up alongside both Quintana and Egan Bernal in Colombian cycling legend.

Yet so much could go wrong.

Quintana flourished through the opening half of his tenure at Movistar as he scored the two GC wins that still highlight his palmarès. Yet the second half of Nairo’s Movistar career was a tale of tactical mishap and inter-team tension as he formed part of an ill-fated “trident” with Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa that bickered and malfunctioned its way to mediocrity and became the unfortunate joke of the pro cycling world.

Mikel Landa, Alejandro Valverde, and Nairo Quintana
Movistar and its leadership “trident” of Landa, Valverde, and Quintana proved a tactical malfunction. Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Off the back of a promising 2020 season and with the support of Mas at scheduled starts at this year’s Tour and Vuelta, López has the potential to win the Spanish race and finally live up to his 2018 promise. But if, like Quintana, he finds himself part of Unzué’s tragic “trident” or a misfiring two-prong assault, hot-head López could come apart at Movistar.

Having already butted heads with Valverde in the “race or wait” fracas at the 2019 Vuelta, and with a record of not always playing by the script, López could derail his own ambitions and antagonize the seniors in his new squad.

Valverde is the bone fide boss in his final season with Movistar, and Soler and Mas are the home hopes with far-reaching contracts or long histories with the squad. And though Unzué insists that the scars of the Movistar-López spat at the 2019 Vuelta are healed, fresh wounds open easier than some. “Superman” has only a one-year contract and will need to play ball.

López has the promise to deliver, but won’t just parachute into the position of patrón at Movistar. The 27-year-old wants to follow Quintana’s footsteps and fly the Colombian flag high over Spain, and he has the talent to become the nation’s first grand tour winner since Egan Bernal. But the deal with Movistar seems so loaded with “what-ifs” that it feels a long shot.

“I’ll try to achieve my fullest potential to represent the Movistar Team and the people of Colombia in the best possible way,” López said when he signed his contract. “This has always been a very significant team for my home fans and a crucial factor for the growth of the sport in Latin America.”

Will Colombia see its next three-week winner in López? It’s 50-50. Either way, it will be an interesting watch.