If he’d ever been away, now he’s back. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) returned to the Vuelta a España lead on Friday thanks to a late surge for the line that netted the Slovenian a third stage win in 10 days, and utterly unexpectedly, la roja.
Deprived of the race lead last Sunday by Richard Carapaz (Ineos-Grenadiers) in the Pyrenees after he ran out of power near the summit at Formigal, five days later on what was supposed to be a transition stage prior to this weekend’s mountain showdown, Roglič hit out for the finish on a short, twisting uphill finish at Suances.
Such was the power of Roglič’s dash for the line that he and eight other riders, including Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), third on the general classification, claimed three seconds advantage over an 18-rider group that contained Carapaz and Enric Mas (Movistar), currently lying fifth. Roglič also opened a handy 10-second gap on Britain’s Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), fourth overall, who was a little further adrift than the other GC racers in Suances’ fraught finale.
The time gaps were only narrow, but coupled with the time bonus for first place on the stage, Roglič reclaimed the leader’s jersey. His only goal, he said afterwards, had been to go for the stage. On this occasion after winning stage 1 in Arrate and stage 7 in Moncalvillo, in Suances at stage 10 he hit a double jackpot.
“It was a good surprise. I just went for the win, the team had put me in a great position, and I could do it,” Roglič, turned 31 this week, said afterwards.
“For the team it doesn’t change much, we still need to keep our momentum and focus. But we have some big mountain stages coming up this weekend, they say the leader’s jersey gives you strength and hopefully it’ll do that for me when I need it.”
Roglič denied earlier claims on Spanish TV that he had done a recon of the draggy, uphill finish at Suances on the morning of the stage. But he did say that he had watched a video the night before of the Vuelta stage from 2008 - which had a different run-in, but the same finish.
“I’ve never been here before, but I saw that finale. Then luckily I had the legs and I won,” was his simple explanation of his victory.
Probably the key to it all, apart from strength and his trademark, devastatingly late acceleration for the line, was timing. Whereas Guillaume Martin (Cofidis Solutions Credits), Andrea Baglioli (Deceuninck-QuickStep) and Carapaz himself had all reached the forefront of the surging, shattering peloton on the draggy uphill and then faded, Roglič calculated exactly when he needed to hit the head of the action. Then with one quick look back to check he had enough distance for a victory salute, his right arm punched the air in triumph.
Having unexpectedly reclaimed the leader’s jersey - and reinforced his already strong hold on the points lead to boot - Roglič recognised that it had “definitely” benefited Jumbo-Visma to relinquish la roja for a few days.
“It’s quite a challenge to have the lead the whole time, but our main goal always the same, so now take responsibility back and do best we can,” he said.
Enjoying the GC fray
The intense, ding-dong battle with Carapaz both for the lead and on the slopes of the Moncalvillo two days ago might lead media to think the Vuelta is now a two-horse race. But Roglič argued that Movistar, to name but one team, would be pushing him hard as well in the mountains of Asturias on Saturday and Sunday.
“I expect them to fight really aggressively and do their best, they are super strong and it’s their home race,” he stated. “The fight is not just between me and Richard, but also with a lot of other guys.”
It’s been widely noticed by race followers that Roglič seems far more cheerful and relaxed than in the Tour de France, or in the Vuelta last year when he was also leading, but, curiously, had much more of an advantage time-wise on his rivals. Such is his improved morale. He even made a joke on Friday about recently turning 31 - not an anniversary everybody is willing to celebrate - saying that it had played a part in his success at Suances: "I’m like a wine,”he said, “when I’m one year older, I'm stronger, better."
So what’s with the wise-cracking? Despite the GC battle being much more intense in this year’s Vuelta than in 2019, Roglič agreed morale-wise and emotionally he was in a better place than earlier this year, something he attributed to being able to continue racing, pure and simple, despite the hugely adverse pandemic-related circumstances and scenarios of 2020.
“Right from the beginning, I’ve just been enjoying being here, doing this race in these hard times - for everybody and for all of us in team, we’re just happy to do that,” he explained.
“I think the whole team is enjoying this, we’re doing our best. Also, compared to the Tour, it was just a lot of things, [but] I have already had enough stress for this year. I need really to enjoy this, be happy I can still do the races and have fun.”
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