In 2020, Roglič had taken the first red leader’s jersey at the summit finish in Arrate, beginning the Vuelta as he had ended it in 2019, in the top position overall.
And now in 2021 in Burgos’ short, sharp opening time trial, the Slovenian has once again netted la roja, underlining his status as the leading favourite for what would be a third consecutive win in Spain’s Grand Tour.
Despite the weight of expectations he now carries in Spain’s Grand Tour, Roglič looked more laid-back than usual when he started the race, exchanging fist-bump greetings with rivals shortly before he rolled down the start ramp in Burgos. And afterwards, too, the Slovenian ended his press conference with a cheery one-armed wave at the journalists following the interview on Zoom.
In the race itself, it was clear that Roglič meant business, as the Olympic champion rode close to provisional stage leader Alex Aramburu’s times on the hilly first segment before opening up the throttle in the much flatter second part.
Come the finish, Roglič was six seconds faster than the Astana racer, with his nearest GC rival Alexsandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) 14 seconds further back. Egan Bernal (Ineos-Grenadiers), widely rated his most dangerous challenger, was a considerable 27 seconds adrift.
Put it another way: if Roglič ever wanted to remind the world about why he has recently acquired an Olympic TT gold medal for his trophy cabinet, his performance in the Vuelta’s opening time trial certainly was no bad way to go about it.
Asked if he was surprised to be able to hit the ground running with such force, Roglič argued, “It’s always nice to win, you know that can happen. I went out today to give it everything, it proved to be enough and I’m super happy about it.”
Roglič’s previous time trial wins in the Vuelta both in 2019 at Pau and 2020 at Ezaro, effectively ensured him both race victories overall, while Burgos is much more of a possible omen of the shape of things to come rather than a definitive hammer blow.
As for how much he could read into his first TT win in the 2021 race, Roglič said “hopefully it says I’m in good shape. It was a prologue, and the big stages are still coming. But today was beautiful, so I’m super happy.”
Two years on from his first Vuelta victory, Roglič confirmed that he had learned some lessons from 2019, when he all but lost the race thanks to a brutal echelon stage that started on the flatlands further south of Burgos. As such Sunday’s ultra-flat run through the province might look made for the sprinters, but Roglič recognised he could not afford to sit back, relax and wait for Monday’s first summit finish.
“It could be a crucial stage,” he said, “we’ll have to be careful. And Monday is actually the same story, too.”
A further example of his strategic thinking came when Roglič made it clear that if an appropriate candidate presents himself, rather than defend the lead all the way to Santiago de Compostela, Jumbo-Visma would be prepared to ‘lend’ the leader’s jersey to another team to share the pressure of controlling the race.
“Definitely,” he agreed, when asked if the Dutch team might adopt that tactic. “If there’s the possibility of the right rider. Our intention is to have the leader's jersey on the right day, which is the day after the last stage. We took it today and we can be happy about that. But in the next few days we have to focus, still, on the goals we have.”
For now, in any case, Roglič’s defence of his double Vuelta title has got off to the perfect start. Should he dominate on Monday in the mountains, too, the confirmation that he is once again the reference point in this year’s race will be complete.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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