MUSCAT, Oman (VN) — We have yet to see the best that Miguel Ángel López (Astana) has to offer.
Sure, he capped off the 2017 season with a terrific Vuelta a España. That came after he spent half the year off the bike, however. His first goal for 2018 is the Giro d’Italia, and rivals should consider this fair warning: He’s planning to be much better prepared for this grand tour.
“I wasn’t able to put in the necessary work to be at my best or work on things for the Vuelta.” López told VeloNews this week at the Tour of Oman. “I raced it with very few days of competition in the legs, 15 or 20 days. And also with few days of training. I trained very little because the fracture was in November [of 2016] and I didn’t start competing until June.”
He has additional motivation now that he’s Astana’s outright leader for the Giro. After Vincenzo Nibali’s departure for Bahrain-Merida at the end of 2016 and Fabio Aru’s jump to UAE Team Emirates this past offseason, López is suddenly the most talented climber on one of cycling’s most recognizable squads.
“Astana is a great team with great riders, as we’ve shown for a few years now. Now it’s up to us,” the 24-year-old Colombian said. “I’m young but every year it gets a bit easier.”
Hailing from Boyacá, also home to Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, López surged to hot prospect status in 2014 when he won the Tour de l’Avenir. With an overall victory at the 2016 Tour de Suisse, his stock rose even higher, but he crashed out of his grand tour debut at the Vuelta that August. A subsequent training crash delayed the start of his 2017 campaign, but when he finally did pin a number on, the results came quickly.
López put on the most impressive show of his career last fall in Spain. In his second grand tour appearance, he charged to two victories on stages 11 and 15 and rode to eighth overall. As pleased as he is with those exploits, López is already hungry for the next opportunity.
“I was still lacking a bit in the last Vuelta. Two good results, two good stages on the GC days. But there’s still a lot of work to be done because I was coming off a fractured leg that left me off the bike for eight months,” he said.
Flashes of brilliance interrupted by injury layoffs have been a recurring theme in the early years of López’s career. He’s hoping those days are behind him now. For 2018, it’s full steam ahead for the Giro d’Italia, with a possible second peak later in the season at the Vuelta.
López will make the Giro start in Jerusalem with much better preparation than he had for last year’s Vuelta. That prep involves more than just base miles.
He is an uber-talented climber but has work to do if he wants to battle for GC glory in any race with a time trial. He has been busy improving his position on the TT bike this offseason.
This winter wasn’t all work either — he spent time with family, went fishing in the rivers and lakes back home in Colombia, making it a point to come into 2018 as relaxed as possible.
Come springtime, the pressure will be on, particularly with the way this year’s Giro d’Italia is structured.
“In the first week, there’s a pair of uphill finishes. So we have to arrive in good shape because we can’t wait and expect to get better over the first week to then be ready for the rest,” he noted.
After Tour of Oman, López’s road to the Giro will take him through Abu Dhabi and then likely Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour of the Alps. If he can stay healthy, he’ll arrive at the Italian grand tour with high hopes, and his expectations will remain high through August and into the Vuelta. Still, he’s not limiting himself to a specific objective.
He’s more interested in putting his legs to the test when the road goes up. He says he hopes his rivals go in with the same plan. That way, the fans get what they came for.
“It makes for a beautiful spectacle when we all battle in the races,” he said. “Like you saw in the [UCI] 2.1 in Colombia [Oro y Paz]. In the last stage, all five of the GC favorites were there on less than five seconds. That made for more excitement for the people. They enjoyed it more. That’s how it should be.”
López is hoping to join forces with a number of the riders that battled at Oro y Paz toward the end of this year in Innsbruck. The climber-friendly worlds will be an excellent opportunity for Colombia to nab a rainbow jersey.
“It’s a chance we can’t miss because it’s been a while since we had a world champion. Just [Santiago] Botero in the time trial,” López noted. “I think we’ll have to work and try to keep it on our minds to arrive to the race in good shape.”
Worlds is still a long ways off, of course, and arriving in good shape will require López to stay healthy through a long season. If he can pull off that elusive feat, however, the rider Colombian fans call “Superman” should have plenty of opportunities to put his powers on display in 2018.