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Understandably, much of the general classification talk at the Tour de France has been about compatriots Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar. The Slovenian duo have been knocking seven bells out of each other in the high mountains and look set to continue their duel right to the end.
By Sadhbh O’Shea | Images by Chris Auld
Not far behind them, however, is another pair of countrymen waiting in the wings and duking it out between themselves. Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran and Miguel Angel Lopez are just 10 seconds apart in the overall standings and are primed for a ding dong battle in the final week of the Tour de France. It’s a long way to Paris and they could even challenge the Slovenian supremacy if either of the leading pair slips up.
After starting with so much hope and ambition, Colombian fortunes have been tinged with frustration at this year’s Tour de France. The South American country began the race with a plethora of challengers, not least the defending champion Egan Bernal, and a real chance at taking home the Coupe Omnisports.
Sunday’s stage to the summit of Grand Colombier put a real dent in those hopes. It saw Bernal’s ambitions of winning, or even making the podium, drift away as he trailed in more than seven minutes behind yellow, while Nairo Quintana also slipped down to the precipice of the top 10 and gave up on his GC hopes. Debutant Sergio Higuita, who had been 16th at the start of stage 15, also abandoned after a horrible crash in the opening kilometers.
It is a sign of the country’s strength and depth in Grand Tour racing that all of this along with Daniel Martinez’s massive time loss in week one has not spelled the end of Colombia’s hopes in the overall standings.
Uran and Lopez are the last GC men standing for the country (unless the injured Quintana and Bernal mount an unlikely resurgence over the coming days). They are two personalities that could hardly be more different but, on the road, they are separated by just a few seconds.
Going into the Tour de France, Uran may have expected to play second fiddle to Martinez in the big mountains but he now has sole responsibility for EF Pro Cycling’s general classification hopes. It’s not a position that will unduly concern him, and his Grand Tour record speaks for itself. The 33-year-old has taken two runners-up spots at the Giro d’Italia back in 2013 and 2014 and finished second to Chris Froome at the 2017 Tour, winning a rain-hit stage over the Col de la Biche, where, by coincidence, the first rider over the summit was a certain Primoz Roglic.
Uran’s rise to the podium positions at the 2020 Tour has been discrete and has largely gone under the radar as Pogacar and Roglic go at each other. He has not done anything flashy but, instead, he has consistently held onto the favorites and gradually moved up the standings as others before him have faltered. Perhaps it may not be the most exciting style of racing, but it has reaped rewards. Uran’s biggest time loss came on the Puy Mary summit finish when he gave away 38 seconds to the leaders, while much of the remaining time has been given away through bonus seconds.
Seven years Uran’s junior, Lopez also knows what it takes to climb upon the rostrum in a three-week event. The 26-year-old finished third in both the 2018 Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a Espana – he’s finished five Giros and Vueltas in total since 2017 and never come lower than eighth – and he’s making his debut at the Grand Boucle this year.
Despite the downhill mishap on stage 1, where he collided with a signpost, Lopez has enjoyed a strong Tour de France so far. He endured some early time losses but has been chipping away at his nearest rivals and remaining firm as others have stumbled. An attempt to take time on stage 16 came to naught. But in a race where the podium could be decided by seconds, as a well-known British supermarket would say, every little helps.
Thus, the stage is set for the final battles of this war. Two big mountainous tests remain before a mountain time trial on the penultimate day of racing. Both Uran and Lopez have had off-days, but they have limited their losses thus far and still look among the best going into the race’s home stretch.
On the face of it, the fight for victory will remain between the Slovenians, while the Colombian contest will be for the final podium spot. But, as the Tour has taught us time and time again, there is no certainty in this sport. Uran and Lopez are still within touching distance of the top two and will be there to take advantage should either of them falter, just as there are those behind them that are ready to pounce if either has a bad day.