By Gregor Brown
Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) began the Vuelta a España, his first Grand Tour, to discover his classification abilities, but now he says that it is simply "difficult" with three broken teeth and shooting pain from an exposed nerve. Lopez suffered the injuries in a crash towards the end of Monday's third stage.
The 22-year-old Colombian stepped off the bus ahead of stage four without much of a smile. One would not have noticed it anyway as his mouth was bandaged.
"Well, I am in some pain," he said. "It's important that now I'm able to start this stage and keep fighting in this Vuelta.
“Yes, it's difficult to eat because my teeth are broken and I have a nerve that's bothering. Drinking water really hurts. It's very difficult."
Astana's stars stayed at home. Vincenzo Nibali won the Giro d'Italia and Fabio Aru raced for the overall in the Tour de France, both skipped the Vuelta after the Olympics. This time, it was Lopez's chance in his first Grand Tour to see what is possible as team leader.
After falling before the final climb on Monday, though, he lost nearly 13 minutes and slid down the overall classification.
"It's going really badly for me now, but I hope that things will change. I could fight my way back up in the classification. Right now, it's important just that I recover," he added.
"The motivation? This is my first Grand Tour where I'm really fighting for the overall and the team is supporting me to do so, so that is my motivation. I have to keep my head up because I know that these things happen even if it's difficult for me now."
"The classification has now gone out the window," said sports director Alexandre Shefer. "He's 13 minutes back. We could try to fight back and perhaps win a stage, that is the goal.
"We want to see how he can do here to have an idea for the future. He's a young rider and for a 22-year-old it's hard. He started as a leader but it's not that we thought he was going to go and win the Vuelta.
“We want to test him and see what's possible. For sure, though, he has a lot of class, the right mentality, and let's hope he can continue in this race for his future."
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