Movistar co-leader Miguel Ángel López started stage 20 comfortably sitting in third overall, but after being ridden off the GC podium by a vigilant and determined Bahrain-Victorious team, López took his unceremonious exit into his own hands and left the race in a team car.
The stage 18 winner had missed the decisive GC attack just inside the last 60 km of the stage and the makeup of his split meant that the chase was up to him and him alone. Even Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) wouldn’t help him out, as his teammate Adam Yates had launched the move that took Jack Haig and Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious) up the road with Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and Enric Mas (Movistar).
Haig started the day in fourth, 1:43 behind the Colombian, and once the small red jersey group started scooping up breakaway riders, including Bahrain-Victorious rider Mark Padun – even fellow Australian Nick Schultz (BikeExchange) could be seen among Haig’s teammates – their advantage over the López group only got bigger. Even his Movistar teammate José Joaquim Rojas couldn’t do much to stem the damage once the group had swollen with riders dropped during the earlier accelerations.
Mas on Supermán: ‘Did he crash? I didn’t know anything…’
— Daniel Friebe (@friebos) September 4, 2021
It’s hard to tell exactly when or why López left the race, but he was already approaching eight minutes behind his nearest rivals when the rumours began with about 30 km to go. We might generously assume that he’s unwell – with a little over 60 km left of the Vuelta including Sunday’s final time trial, why else would he stop? But all we know for sure is Movistar’s head of performance Patxi Vila was seen trying to persuade him to continue before the 27-year-old climbed into the team car, which he did while engaged in an curiously timed phone call.
— La Flamme Rouge (@laflammerouge16) September 4, 2021
🔴¡Las imágenes de Miguel Ángel López subiéndose al coche del equipo Movistar para abandonar esta Vuelta! #VueltaRTVE4S
El colombiano, en rebeldía, decidió abandonar la carrera pese a la insistencia de su jefe de filas Patxi Vila
— Teledeporte (@teledeporte) September 4, 2021
After the stage, unconfirmed reports via Colombian media suggested that López had pulled out in anger after the team ordered him to stop chasing. He had apparently pulled over and sat down on the side of the road for several minutes. Teammate Imanol Erviti was seen trying to get him going again, but he subsequently stopped completely, which is where the story picks up at the team car.
JJ Rojas, the veteran Spaniard often called upon to control the peloton, and who joined López in the chase group, is still unsure what happened.
“He was in the group, but I don’t know what happened,” Rojas said. “They said on the radio that he climbed off. I’m sorry for him. He’s a great person and has shown that to everyone these last days. We’ll see what happened and we’ll talk. It was the first thing I was told when I finished, but I don’t know anything about it.”
This story is still unfolding…