Stage 4 of the Vuelta a España may have been a largely quiet one for the majority of the peloton as they raced across the plains of Aragón, but for race leader, Jumbo-Visma's Primož Roglič, there were hidden difficulties.
A windy stage to Ejea de los Cabelleros saw Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers take to the front at one point in a bid to make some general classification waves by splitting the peloton, but the gusts were never strong enough to provoke any echelons.
The breakaway battled for pride, an intermediate sprint and the combativity prize, which was up for grabs on the 192-kilometre stage, while back in the peloton there were some nerves despite the lack of obvious pitfalls.
"It was quite a lot of wind, tailwind, so really, really fast," Roglič, now on his 16th career day in the lead of the Vuelta, said after the stage.
"It was quite nervous at some points and especially during the last 20km it was super-fast and a little scary. Luckily everything went through, the team did a good job protecting me in the right place, and it's one more day in red."
The Slovenian, bidding to defend his Vuelta crown and the firm favourite to win the race, added that while the stage might have looked easy – relatively, given a 49.26kph average speed – he and his team still had to be attentive and defend their positioning in order to avoid crashes.
"It looks easier in watts because it's not so high-powered," he said. "But you have to be every moment there in the front and there are no mistakes you can do."
He'll face harder tests at the weekend, beginning with a hilly stage to Sabiñánigo which includes two second-category climbs and an uphill run to the line. A mountain stage to the Formigal ski resort near the French border will provide a sterner challenge, though.
The climb, which replaces the Col du Tourmalet after French authorities refused the race's passage due to COVID-19 restrictions, is famed for its role at the 2016 Vuelta, where Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador ambushed their GC rivals, putting over two minutes into Chris Froome.
The Alto de Petralba and Puerto de Cotefablo also return on the run to the final climb, though a repeat of 2016's long-range GC move looks unlikely at this early point in the race.
"First, tomorrow I think is quite a difficult stage so we will have to do again our best with the whole team," Roglič said. "About Sunday, they made a new stage so for us at the end we just need to do our best."
He added that he hopes that the situation with COVID-19 which led to the removal of the Portalet, Aubisque and Tourmalet will get better for everyone, also saying that it's his aim to hold on to the red jersey – his lead is five seconds from Israel Start-Up Nation's Dan Martin – to Madrid.
"Actually, we don't have influence on what if happening around but hopefully, sooner or later, it turns out better for all of us.
"We will do everything to achieve that [red jersey]. So, like I said, tomorrow is a new day and a new challenge in front of us."
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Daniel Ostanek is production editor at Cyclingnews, having joined in 2017 as a freelance contributor and later being hired as staff writer. Before Cyclingnews, he was published in numerous publications around the cycling world, including Procycling, CyclingWeekly, CyclingTips, Cyclist, and Rouleur, among others. As well as reporting and writing news and features, Daniel runs the 'How to watch' content throughout the season.
Daniel has reported from the world's top races, including the Tour de France, and has interviewed a number of the sport's biggest stars, including Egan Bernal, Wout van Aert, Remco Evenepoel, Mark Cavendish, and Anna van der Breggen. Daniel rides a 2002 Landbouwkrediet Colnago C40 and his favourite races are Strade Bianche and the Vuelta a España.
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