The third edition of the one-day race saw a change-up in the route, this time featuring a double ascent of the 'Giant of Provence', first from the Sault side, then the more commonly used route from Bedoin. This replicates a double ascent of the famous climb on Stage 11 of the Tour de France, where riders will tackle Mont Ventoux twice, before finishing in Malaucène.
At the Mont Ventoux Challenge it was a fast ascent of the first Ventoux climb, riders reached Chalet Reynard before emerging onto the exposed mountainside to fight the steep slopes and the howling winds that have made the final five kilometres infamous in cycling history.
AG2R led the way onto the final climb (21km at 8.7 per cent) stringing out the field for Australian leader Ben O'Connor, with Clément Champoussin and Geoffrey Bouchard pulling long turns at the front of the race. Before O’Connor could make his move, Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) kicked off the action and López swiftly launched what proved to be the decisive attack of the day.
There was still 12.5 kilometres to the summit but the Colombian's surge saw him rapidly open up a gap and while O'Connor valiantly tried to match the Colombian, it was clear that he was unable to follow the 2020 Tour de France stage winner.
O’Connor attacked a number of times as the race reformed behind the lone leader, each time finding a rider on his wheel, with Cristian Rodríguez (Total Direct Energie) following but not helping. Enric Mas (Movistar) made use of his teammate being free up the road, sitting on the other attackers and then jumping across to a surge from Oscar Rodríguez (Astana-Premier Tech) with 6.5 kilometres remaining.
That was the way the race finished, with López steadily increasing his lead all the way to the peak of the climb, finishing with a massive winning margin of two minutes and 27 seconds to Oscar Rodríguez, who held off Mas at the top of the mountain to prevent a Movistar one-two.
"The boys did a stupendous job and this is the way to thank them for their work,” said López. “That was a long one for me, but we did the first climb at a strong tempo and the second one started rapidly, so that allowed me to attack from range.”
“So happy about the win! We obviously were tipped by many as favourites to do well and go for the win, both myself and Enric, but our teammates were fantastic and made things quite easier. It was a magnificent job by them – and we had to try and pay them back for those efforts, so why not go for a nice victory!"
The Colombian is considered a specialist on the long climbs that finish at altitude. His Achilles heel in Grand Tours has been a combination of consistency and time-trialling, but there were no signs of weakness on the slopes of Ventoux as he powered away from his rivals.
"An easy one? It’s never easy, not at all – it was such a long climb for me," said López. "It was difficult for everybody, especially considering that the first Ventoux climb was covered at great speed and we tackled the second one at a strong pace.
"That also made it easier for me to attack from afar, as the rivals were a bit more tired. As I said, I’m really happy and, overall, satisfied to complete my Tour de France preparations with this success.“
Ben O’Connor crossed the line in fourth place, three minutes and 30 seconds down on López, after having done much of the work trying to get across to the runaway leader. The Australian managed to hold off Cristian Rodríguez as they sprinted for the line, with Elissonde following home in sixth at over four minutes in arrears.
Both López and O'Connor are set to race the Tour de France, with the Mont Ventoux Challenge a good indicator of form ahead of the upcoming battles in the high mountains of the Tour de France, particularly with the route taking in two ascents of the famous climb in a similar fashion to the ordeal riders will face in Stage 11 of the Tour.
Every moment of the 2021 Tour de France will be live on SBS, with the ŠKODA Tour Tracker app, SBS TV and the SBS Cycling Central the place to be to catch all the pulsating action from France from June 26 to July 18.