MÉRIBEL, FRANCE (AFP) – Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez won stage 17 of the Tour de France late on Wednesday to climb third in the overall standings as race leader Primoz Roglic extended his advantage.
The race ascended to 2,304m altitude atop the Col de la Loze where rookie Tadej Pogacar lost a handful of seconds to Roglic in the race for the yellow jersey on a day the 2019 champion Egan Bernal withdrew.
“I’m glad this is behind me,” said Roglic after his toughest challenge as he merely needs to survive without a major incident to win this year’s Tour.
“Every metre counts on a climb like that,” said the 30-year-old.
Richard Carapaz produced a doomed solo bid for Ineos as the Giro champion was caught on the ever-changing gradient of the final 7km above 2,000m as the top 10 experienced a slight shake-up.
A day after the race was cleared of COVID-19 to run all the way to Paris last Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron was present as the peloton struggled through villages full of ubiquitous baskets of flowers hanging from Swiss-style ski chalets.
In the rarefied air that suits the men from the Andes, the 26-year-old Lopez leapfrogged compatriot Rigoberto Uran and extended his lead over Adam Yates and Richie Porte.
Roglic now leads his young compatriot Pogacar by 57 seconds with just three real races left before the Tour gets to Paris.
Suffering from a bad back for a month now Bernal, his Tour defence in tatters, said a sad goodbye to the 2020 edition when Ineos decided to protect the long-term interests of their 23-year-old captain by withdrawing him.
But his compatriot Astana captain Lopez, who is known as ‘Superman’ in his homeland after fighting off three thieves who tried to steal his bike, gave Colombia something to shout about.
Lopez had complained earlier in the race that Jumbo’s dominance was suffocating the race, but saw his opportunity on a mentally challenging finale where the varying gradient called for constant adaptations.
“I won many things in my life, but this is impressive and I worked so hard to get here,” said Lopez, who has previously finished on the podium at both the Giro and the Vuelta.