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Primoz Roglic insists Bernal is not his only rival at Vuelta a España

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) won the 2020 Vuelta a España
Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) won the 2020 Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s unclear quite how much redemption a freshly-minted Olympic champion really needs, but Primoz Roglič arrives at this Vuelta a España in a familiar position. 

On his debut two years ago, he came to Spain with a point to prove after frittering away a seemingly winning hand at the Giro d’Italia. Last autumn, the race offered a salve to the wounds that Roglič incurred by losing the Tour de France in the most traumatic of circumstances to Tadej Pogacar at La Planche des Belles Filles. 

This time out, Roglič chases history with a third successive win, but the race is also a chance to excise the pain of another disappointing outing at the Tour. 

The injuries were physical as much as mental but a similar resolve was required. After a heavy crash in the opening week forced Roglič to abandon ahead of stage 9, his thoughts turned swiftly to the Tokyo Olympics - where he won gold in the time trial - and now the Vuelta, which gets underway with a short time trial in Burgos on Saturday evening.

“It’s a part of cycling and I think also a part of life,” Roglič said of his latest Tour disappointment on Friday. 

“You go up, you go down. The most important thing is to keep moving. I try to follow that. Now I’m here and I’ll definitely do my best at this Vuelta.”

And yet, a week after leaving the Tour, Roglič began to doubt that he would recover in time to line out at the Tokyo Olympics. 

The Slovenian had been pencilled in for the road race and time trial from the beginning of the year, but he only confirmed his participation days before he travelled to Japan.

“In the end, the sooner you accept the way it is, the easier it is, so I went with it. I took it how it was and I just tried to recover somehow, but I was also feeling really empty immediately after, because I really put everything into that Tour,” Roglič revealed. 

“When I left [the Tour], I was sure I would do the Olympics, but after a week, I made a decision that I wouldn’t do it. But then a couple of days later, I thought again, and I said, ‘okay I will do everything to try to get ready and see how it goes.’”

Roglič’s winning time trial effort was notable for the margin of victory - a minute better than Tom Dumoulin and Rohan Dennis - and the way he lived up to his “keep moving” maxim by continuing to pedal long past he had crossed the finish line, as if to make certain the gold medal would be his. 

The Tokyo time trial and road race were Roglič’s only race days since early July, however, and it remains to be seen if he will pay for his dearth of recent competition in the opening phase of the Vuelta, where the first summit finish comes as early as stage 3 on Monday.

“We will see…uh,” he said, rolling out his usual riposte and unconcern.

“The answer to this will be known after a couple of days, or at least at the end. I did everything I could and I feel confident. We’re here with a strong team and we have to go out there and try to have fun,”  Roglič said, admitting that as in 2019 and 2020, he has not reconnoitred any of the Vuelta route beforehand.

“It’s not different this year, I actually don’t know any of the climbs for this year, so we have to see. In the end, if you have the legs, it’s no problem. We have to deal with it the way it is and see how it goes.”

LEVENS FRANCE MARCH 14 Arrival Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma during the 79th Paris Nice 2021 Stage 8 a 927km stage from Le PlanduVar to Levens 518m Disappointment Press Media Mask Covid safety measures Stage itinerary redesigned due to COVID19 lockdown imposed in the city of Nice ParisNice on March 14 2021 in Levens France Photo by Bas CzerwinskiGetty Images

(Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Taking on Egan Bernal

In the absence of Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), this Vuelta has been touted as a duel between Roglič and Giro winner Egan Bernal (Ineos), even if the Slovenian maintains that such a billing is reductive. 

The start list also includes, after all, his 2020 dauphin Richard Carapaz and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), the Movistar duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Angel Lopez, Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and others.

“I’m more worried about the question of how to approach it day by day and how to approach it with the whole team so we don’t make mistakes, that’s what I’m worried about. As you know for sure, Egan is a super-strong guy but it’s not only him, you have a lot more strong guys and it will be a big fight between all of us all the way to the end,” Roglič said of his rival. 

“You journalists like to have two guys battling each other and make all the stories around it, but in the end, I don’t care who I’m against, if it’s Tadej or Bernal or Richie… You have so many guys who are strong and capable of winning, it’s stupid to think about it. We stay focused on ourselves and the whole team around me.”

Roglič’s ability to win stages and amass time bonuses by outkicking his rivals at summit finishes has been a key weapon in his armoury in recent seasons, and the seconds on offer across this Vuelta appear to give the Slovenian a notional advantage over men like Bernal, even if he downplayed the idea.

“If you’re the fastest or best, then it’s good, but if someone else is better, it’s good for them,” Roglič said cryptically but succinctly.  

“It’s always the same. Three-week races are always honest races: at the end the strongest guy will win.”