Spaniard reflects on his most unexpected Vuelta
In mid-April the season of Juan Pedro López had an abrupt stop, one which could affect his upcoming program. At Flèche Wallonne, the Spaniard crashed and broke his elbow. Not an “easy” fracture. Juanpe, however, was serene and calm. “A few days of absolute rest and then I will start to train again. The Vuelta is waiting for me.”
In June, López resumed racing and, after a couple of months, he receives the confirmation that he will race the Spanish Grand Tour. He reached the start in Burgos “with the dream of winning a stage,” and with the role of key mountain domestique to support team leader Ciccone.
After the sudden abandon of Giulio, at the beginning of the third week, the plans changed and Juanpe became GC leader. After 21 gruelling stages, on Sunday 5th September, in Santiago de Compostela, he finished the race with a solid 13th place in GC and third in the youth ranking behind Gino Mäder and Egan Bernal.
"From one to a hundred, I'm tired two hundred. Kind of like everyone, I guess. It was a very hard race, but it gave me great satisfaction," explains the 24-year-old rider.
“I had a very specific task at the start: riding alongside Cicco and staying with him as long as possible in the mountain stages. I had to hold on, because the unexpected can always happen and I had to be there to help him. It was also a sort of endurance test, something good to see how far I could hold on. Day by day, it was going well for Giulio and for me too. I finished the second week 16th in GC.”
“Then, the worst happened. In the 16th stage Cicco crashed and was forced to withdraw. The Team’s plans inevitably changed because Giulio was our leader. In the evening the team directors Popovych and Rast told me – ‘you are in a good position in GC, not really far from the best: keeping this position will be our goal as a team.’”
“I found myself in a new dimension, which I never imagined. My approach to the race had to change. My teammates have been fantastic in supporting me and not making me feel under pressure. It was a new experience, a lesson of leadership, starting from the little things like, simply, telling to the radio every time I had stop during the race. I’m sure it was a key experience, something very useful for my future.”
The strength of that pure climber physique is not something new. Already in the under 23 category Juanpe impressed and Trek-Segafredo decided not to let him go. What everyone can now see, however, is the strength of his character.
“A lot has changed for me in a week. When the Team told me that I was the new leader, I didn’t feel pressure but only great confidence,” repeats Juanpe. “I said to myself: ‘if they give me this responsibility it’s because they believe I can reach the goal.’ That was my approach.
“Pressure is a feeling I never suffered, even when I was young. I’ve always raced with one goal: giving my 100 percent, finishing races knowing I’ve done my job. When I’m on the bike, I bring out everything I have. But I’ve never made the bike my only reason for living. I’ve always balanced it with what I think really matters in a person’s life, which is family and people you care about. I believe it’s a strength of mine to release tension, manage expectations and the disappointments that inevitably come out during a career. This approach allowed me to form a strong mindset, and now I see the benefits.
“To be honest, anyway, I didn’t think I could do this performance at the Vuelta. It was an opportunity that came up by accident and I tried to make the most of it. It left me a lot of confidence. It was a step forward in my career, a very useful experience to shape me as a rider.
“I’ll have to see in the future where my limits lie. I just renewed with the team until 2023; I’m really happy to continue my growth here. I feel confidence around me and I feel the same for those who are helping me. This Vuelta gave me the confirmation that I have the right characteristics, physical and mental, to look to GT as the ideal race in which I can perform well. How well, I don’t know and it doesn’t even make too much sense thinking it now. Let’s focus on the next step. I hope that, having climbed the Vuelta’s mountains, the next could be the Giro d’Italia, the dream of every climber.”