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Roglic, Kuss and Jumbo-Visma take control of Vuelta a España on Arrate

Team Jumbo rider Slovenias Primoz Roglic wins the 1st stage of the 2020 La Vuelta cycling tour of Spain a 173 km race from Irun to Arrate on October 20 2020 Photo by ANDER GILLENEA AFP Photo by ANDER GILLENEAAFP via Getty Images
Primož Roglič takes victory on the Alto de Arrate at stage 1 of the Vuelta a España (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

As a truncated edition of the Vuelta a España got underway with a challenging stage in the verdant, rain-soaked hills of Gipuzkoa, the Dutch powerhouse of Jumbo-Visma picked up where they left off at the Tour de France.

The men in yellow took charge of the peloton from early on after setting off from the town of Irun near the French border and were once again in the driving seat on the day's final climb of the Alto de Arrate, last seen at the race back in 2012.

Back then, on the third day of the race, the eventual top four in Madrid announced themselves as a class apart. Alejandro Valverde took the win, ahead of Joaquim Rodríguez, Chris Froome and eventual race winner Alberto Contador.

Eight years later at the same finish above Eibar – a slight downhill run two kilometres past the summit – reigning champion Primož Roglič took the race's first red jersey, powering to victory from an elite group of eight that had emerged on the climb's steep slopes.

"It's nice to win, eh?" Roglič said after the finish of his eighth win of 2020, the latest of which came at Liège-Bastogne-Liège two weeks ago. "I'm very happy, really very happy," he added.

Roglič and Jumbo-Visma overcame a powerful challenge from that other super-team, Ineos Grenadiers, who had bossed the peloton on the run-in to the climb through Eibar and the Ego Valley. 

Richard Carapaz - rather than proclaimed Ineos co-leader Chris Froome – emerged as Roglič's likely closest challenger, finishing second and looking comfortable in the lead group. But it's Jumbo-Visma who look the top team, with super-domestique Sepp Kuss placing eighth, George Bennett coming home in ninth, and the pair of Robert Gesink and Tom Dumoulin finishing with the next major group, 51 seconds down.

"The team again rode really strong," said Roglič. "They worked perfectly the whole day and at the end I was able to win, so it’s top. It's a beautiful start.

"In the final climb we were going full gas, we were all suffering. We had the crazy guy – Sepp – he's flying. I think we still tried to keep all the guys there in contention because for me it's quite a special Vuelta. We don't know how it will go or how long it will go. It's just about focussing day by day and trying to win as much as possible."

While hailing his own team – who now hold the red and green jerseys plus Kuss' polka dot jersey and the teams classification – Roglič nodded to Ineos' strength. As ever, the 30-year-old was reticent to make any prognostications about the remainder of the race, preaching a cautious, day-to-day outlook.

"They did a super strong work, or at least what we saw today," he said. "But like I said we'll see how it goes. Three weeks is quite long but first of all we'll celebrate this victory then tomorrow is another day.

"It's quite a strange season; I had a lot of races and stress and everything. I just want to enjoy it here. It's super nice that in these times we can still do some races and hopefully it was fun to watch."

Kuss is key

EIBAR SPAIN OCTOBER 20 Podium Sepp Kuss of The United States and Team Jumbo Visma Polka Dot Mountain Jersey Celebration Mask Covid safety measures during the 75th Tour of Spain 2020 Stage 1 a 173km stage from Irun to Eibar Alto de Arrate 570m lavuelta LaVuelta20 La Vuelta on October 20 2020 in Eibar Spain Photo by David RamosGetty Images

Kuss leads the mountain classification after an aggressive team ride on Arrate (Image credit: Getty Images Sport)

Along with the obvious name of Roglič, Kuss, the 26-year-old American still only in his third year at WorldTour level, was one of the stars of Arrate. He kicked off the attacking on the climb 4.7 kilometres from the finish, blowing up what was left of Ineos' plans to control things with Sosa and Carapaz.

What emerged from his sharp acceleration ended up being the group that contested the finish, with the Coloradan having put despatched the likes of Alejandro Valverde and Gorka Izagirre to the chase group in one fell swoop.

"We knew the climb would be really hard and that the Vuelta is a race where you can attack a lot and it's very explosive," Kuss said after the finish. "So, we tried that in the final with myself and I knew that Primož would have a good chance if he attacked over the top.

"We tried to make it hard in the group and then just hold a steady pace over the top. He was able to get a really good gap and make it to the finish, so it was really exciting."

Kuss went again just inside the four-kilometre mark, taking the race by the scruff of the neck on behalf of Roglič before settling in at the front, leading the group over the top and earning the polka dot jersey for his trouble.

He clearly enjoys the Vuelta – the race where he took his first WorldTour win at Santuario del Acebo last season – and said as much afterwards.

"The win in the Vuelta last year was a big breakthrough for me. It gave me so much confidence and I think this is my favourite race of the year and I was still really motivated to come here and do well. To win with Primož is really nice and I love working with him. 

"We'll see," he said, in response to a very early query about his KOM chances. "We have the red jersey now with Primoz so that's priority number one. I think today I didn't even realise I was over the KOM in first position, so we'll see what the situation is like tomorrow."

The challenges will quickly stack up for Roglič, Kuss and the rest of Jumbo-Visma, starting tomorrow with a downhill finish in Lekunberri, followed up by the summit finish at La Laguna Negra de Vinuesa on Thursday and the Col du Tourmalet on stage 6. After their commanding display on stage 1, they look more than ready to meet them.