At the opening stage at Itzulia Basque Country, an early start, a devastatingly solid time trial performance and a patient three-hour wait in the hot seat concluded with an impressive time trial and the lead to boot for Jumbo-Visma leader Primož Roglič.
The Slovenian, who now has three time trial victories at the race on his palmarès, finished just two seconds up on his closest pursuer, former junior World Champion Brandon McNulty (UAE Team Emirates).
Over a mere 13.9-kilometres of a very technical, tough course, he pushed his main rivals, McNulty's teammate Tadej Pogačar and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) to a distant 28 seconds, placing them in fifth and sixth places, respectively.
In a stunning collective performance by Jumbo-Visma, teammates Jonas Vingegaard and Tobias Foss also claimed third and fourth places on the stage, further strengthening the Dutch team’s hand in terms of options from day one of the race.
Asked why he had decided to start so early, the 10th rider off, Roglič cracked a joke by way of response, telling reporters, “the faster you start, the faster you finish.”
But he denied that his beating Pogačar so clearly was in any way revenge for what had happened on the second to last day of the 2020 Tour de France.
“Everybody says it’s just about me racing against Tadej and him racing against me, but there are really a lot of strong guys here," he said. “Still, it’s OK, this is just stage one and there’s a lot of racing coming up. It’ll be fun to watch.”
Roglič’s excellent start was arguably exactly what the Slovenian needed after his disastrous final stage in Paris-Nice, where his seeming iron grip on the race suddenly disintegrated in a welter of crashes and a dislocated shoulder.
It will also revive memories of how he won the Itzulia Basque Country back in 2018, with a victory in the mid-race time trial at Lodosa, as well as taking a win against the clock on a very tricky, hilly course in Eibar back in 2017, one of his earliest career wins.
As Roglič is at pains to point out, there are five stages remaining and everything to play for in a race as tough as Itzulia Basque Country. On top of that, 31 riders remain within a minute of him, meaning the sparks have only just begun to fly.
As for the time trial itself, Roglič recognised that it was not the most straightforward of courses. But whereas other rivals like Pogačar later said that they went off too fast, the Slovenian calculated the course to perfection, perhaps recollecting his strategy at a similarly brutally-steep uphill time trial finish in Ezaro in last year’s Vuelta a España.
“The TT was a little special like they always are here in País Vasco, but I really like racing here. It’s a nice challenge, some downhills and difficult corners, but it was good to do and I’m really happy with my performance,” Roglič said.
“For sure I’d like to have [the leader's jersey] after the last stage, but we’ll see how it goes. No matter what happens, we’ll give it everything.”
And for now, he certainly could not have got off to a better start.
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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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