Yet another Colombian cyclist emerges from the pack in La vuelta a España 2017.
Just as in the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, the last grand race of the year, La vuelta a España, saw the great Colombian hope stutter and fall, while another new star jumped out of nowhere. Esteban Chaves started brightly enough, but his injury-ravaged season came back to bite him and he finished the third and last week plummeting through the rankings. Having finished fifth and third in his last two Vueltas, the young bogotano will be disappointed to finish outside the top ten this year.
The breakout star, however, was Miguel Ángel López. Just 23 years old and in his first Grand Tour finish, the boyacense rider had an excellent race by anyone’s standards. He also took two stages and was the best young rider. There’s no jersey for that sadly, just satisfaction. He was only 20 points off the mountains jersey as well, proving himself to be a real climbing specialist.
Stages 11 and 15 both finished with the young Colombian ahead of the pack as no-one could match his devastating attacks. Finishing second and third on other stages showed his consistency. He reached as high as sixth in the general classification before losing time on the decisive stage. With Jarlinson Pantano narrowly missing out on a stage win and Darwin Atapuma also in the top 20, Colombia currently has incredible strength in depth.
Adding to that was the performance of the Manzana Postobón team, the competition’s youngest squad comprised almost exclusively of Colombian riders. Their highest placed rider, Hernán Aguirre, was only 37th, but they were 15th of 22 teams overall – comfortably ahead of some much better funded teams. That result means they stand a good chance of being invited back next year.
Britain’s Chris Froome was the race winner in typically dominant style, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali and Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin rounding out the podium. Over in Blighty, meanwhile, Fernando Gaviria clocked up another stage win. The young paisa has exploded onto the scene this year, and has every chance of being the next king of the sprinters.
There are still two big races on the calendar: the Giro di Lombardia and the World Championships in Norway. Lombardia was won by Chaves last year, so Colombian hopes may be raised for that. The Norwegian course for the Worlds doesn’t favour most of the Colombian contingent, but if it comes to a pack sprint Gaviria could well be in the running. As always, Colombia has a whole team of potential breakaway artists, including the very dangerous Urán, who’s got a fantastic finish if the break sticks.
With the season coming to a finish, this Colombian generación de oro has shown that they have plenty in reserve. Nairo and Chaves might have disappointed, but that’s been more than made up for with the emergence of López to go along with Gaviria’s dominant sprinting displays and the rebirth of Urán.