Primož Roglič, as has been repeated ad infinitum, used to jump off mountainsides, but after placing third on stage 9 of the Vuelta a España, he showed that he also knows how to scramble up the side of one when he feels the occasion demands it.
A troupe of television crews stood in vigil for the Jumbo-Visma leader outside the makeshift changing room near the finish line in Cortals d'Encamp, but the Slovenian was of little mind to share his thoughts before taking the cable car that would ferry him to his team bus at the base of the mountain.
Instead, he avoided the waiting reporters altogether by improvising an exit route that saw him bound like a gecko up a steep grass slope leading to the funicular station.
Roglič is a reticent interviewee at the best of times, though on this occasion, his reluctance was perhaps explained by the crash he endured on the gravel road that led from the penultimate ascent of Alto de Engolasters to the base of the short final haul to Cortals d'Encamp.
The crash took place during the heavy hailstorm that buffeted finale of the stage and brought a temporary halt to live television pictures in the final 10 kilometres. Indeed, the conditions were so extreme that Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif Addy Engels was unable even to maintain radio contact with his rider.
When Engels spoke with Cyclingnews near the finish area, he was still trying to fill in gaps in his knowledge of how the afternoon had unfolded, though he had been able to divine that Roglič's crash was apparently caused by a motorbike that had slowed in the middle of the road.
By the time Roglič got going again, he found himself distanced by the Movistar duo of Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. He battled gamely on the final climb, however, catching back up to Valverde, passing his fellow faller Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and limiting his losses to Quintana.
Roglič eventually placed third on the stage, 48 seconds behind the stage winner, his fellow countryman Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), and 25 down on Quintana. In the overall standings, Roglič now lies second overall, just six seconds behind the new maillot rojo Quintana, 11 ahead of Lopez and 14 up on Valverde.
"I think in the end the result is good, but it's still a bit confusing about what was happening at one point, because we didn't have any overview in the hailstorm," Engels told Cyclingnews.
"It was not possible to hear anything on the radio, we couldn't even talk that much in the car. I understand there was a small crash with Primoz because motorbikes were blocking the way, but I don't know. In the end, I think when we look at the result in the finish, then we got through the day well.
Teamwork and the early break
The final act of the Vuelta's opening week was a short but brutal Pyrenean leg that took place entirely within the rugged confines of Andorra, with five mountains crammed into just 94.4km.
Roglič had teammates Sepp Kuss, Robert Gesink and Neilson Powless in the day's sizeable early break, all primed to offer assistance as required in the vicious three-part finale that led to the summit of Cortals d'Encamp.
"We wanted at least one guy up there, but it was a pretty big group riding away at the beginning, so it didn't hurt to have guys up there," Kuss explained afterwards.
The strategy looked a sage one, with Gesink, Powless and Kuss all dropping back in turn to help Roglič, but the Slovenian's late crash and subsequent pursuit changed the tenor of his day. Kuss was still with Roglič when he crashed, though, seemingly like everyone else, he didn't see the fall itself.
"He had a little incident with the motorbikes on the beginning of the gravel section, which was too bad, but I think we limited the losses," Kuss said. "I was leading through that corner, so I don't know what they were doing on the inside of the corner."
The Vuelta's foray into Andorra was a riotous one. The 3,330 metres of total climbing needed no further accoutrement, but the hailstorm and crashes – López was also a faller – only added to the day's rigours. And yet afterwards, the overall tenor of the race remained more or less unchanged. 27 seconds separated the four favourites on Sunday morning; despite all the tumult, that spread has now tightened to 20 seconds.
"At one moment, it didn't look that good, because Quintana was in front, Lopez was in front," Engels said. "We could use the guys who were in the break but then at one moment Primož had to do it by himself. Then it was one against one and luckily Primož still had something left."
As the Vuelta breaks for its first rest day, Roglič remains within striking distance of the maillot rojo, and with a time trial that heavily favours to come in Pau on Tuesday. The crash was a frustration, but it could have been a whole lot worse.
"Given the way it looked for one moment before the last climb," Engels said, "the result is good."
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