Some of the world's top cyclists have been winding their way through the countryside of the region this week as the Vuelta a Andalucía cycling race, popularly known as the Ruta del Sol, got under way on Tuesday.
The race, this year celebrating its 67th edition, is very different than previous years' competitions owing to the pandemic. Indeed, those involved have undergone PCR tests while social distancing is being observed as much as possible. Also, teams are being completely isolated from each other in their hotels and, as much as possible, are staying at different hotels to reduce risks.
The Vuelta a Andalucía was initially due to be held in February, but had to be postponed due to the third wave of coronavirus. A knock-on effect of this is that many riders who may have taken part in this event are instead competing in the Giro d'Italia, which started on 8 May and runs until the end of the month.
The Ruta del Sol got under way on Tuesday with La Cala de Mijas welcoming the start line. On it were veterans such as former world champion Mark Cavendish and Marbella-born Luis Ángel Maté. Alongside them were several younger stars looking to establish themselves on the cycling scene.
One of them was Englishman Ethan Hayter of Ineos. He led the general classification after day two following his win in the stage between Iznájar (Cordoba) and Alcalá de la Real (Jaén). The 22-year-old had finished fourth on day one between Mijas and Zahara de la Sierra (Cádiz) but took the yellow jersey the following day after catching Colombia's Miguel Ángel López (also known as 'Superman') in the final 300 metres of the 184.8-kilometre stage. Hayter eventually finished eight seconds ahead of López, taking the lead from his Movistar teammate Gonzalo Serrano, who slipped to seventh following a disappointing day.
Superman to the rescue
The third and most difficult stage (Beas de Segura-Villarrodrigo. 176.9 kilometres) saw a shake-up in the classifications on Thursday. 'Superman' Miguel Ángel López came out on top in the Jaén route which included two first-category climbs. His win placed him top of the overall classification and the Movistar rider will be favourite to take home the prize on the final day.
The penultimate stage will take place between Baza (Granada) and Cúllar Vega (Cordoba) today, Friday, before finishing on Saturday with a 107-kilometre ride between Vera and Pulpí (both Almeria).