A month on from Tadej Pogačar’s audacious smash-and-grab victory at the Tour de France, his main victim, Primož Roglič, has the chance to focus on defending his Vuelta a España title and put September’s defeat even further behind him.
Roglič heads into the 18-day Vuelta a España with dossard number one on his back, and even with Tom Dumoulin riding shotgun, it’s the Slovenian who starts as the pre-race favourite.
Since the harsh manner of the Tour de France defeat that saw Pogačar put in an unstoppable ride to snatch the maillot jaune in the final time trial at the summit of La Planche des Belles Filles, the Jumbo-Visma leader rallied with a sixth place in the men’s road race at the UCI Road World Championships, followed by a surprising but well-earned Monument win in Liège-Bastogne-Liège, after Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) sat up early in the sprint as he looked to celebrate.
Roglič, who has been in fine form all season, would not head to the Vuelta unless both mind and body were up to the task of mounting a title defence, and along with Dumoulin, the Jumbo-Visma team is stacked with proven climbers, such as Robert Gesink, Sepp Kuss, and George Bennett.
"It will be the same as in the Tour de France. We come here with a strong team and Tom and I are the leaders," Roglič said during his pre-race press conference, before playing down any talk of leadership dilemmas within the team.
"We'll see who is better and how we'll work. Tom and I both start as leaders and hopefully, we'll have fun racing here."
Roglič deserves credit for his second place in the Tour, but even more praise for the manner in which he has dealt with such a raw and public defeat. Losing in a Tour de France on a mountain top finish is perhaps one thing, but an individual time trial, when everyone expected the Jumbo rider to close out the race was a bitter way to taste defeat.
Yet the 30-year-old has rallied, and although the wounds are probably still there, he has at least tended to them and tried to move on.
"Everything moved quite fast," Roglic said. "I just immediately accepted how it was and I started to immediately look forward to the next races. I did Worlds and then Liège and now I'm here. I'm looking forward and hoping to do this race as well as I can."
What might help Roglič is that there's no gentle path into this year's Vuelta, no easing into the event or time to dwell as the riders arguably face a tougher first week than a final one – assuming the race reaches Madrid.
"It's true that this is a different course to the one from the Tour because the third week here looks a little bit easier. We'll figure things out tomorrow and in the next few days as to how good we are because it's immediately mountain stages. For me, I like the route, because it will just be racing all the time and I think it will be really exciting to watch for those at home," said the Slovenian.
As for Dumoulin, he comes into the race with slightly less expectancy on his shoulders. The former Giro d'Italia winner was a key super domestique for Roglič at the Tour. Although there's a chance that those roles will be reversed over the coming days and weeks, the Dutchman is well aware that the preparation heading into the Vuelta has been far from ideal, but just as problematic for all concerned.
"It's been really busy since July. We've been on the road non-stop. We're just happy that we can still race the Vuelta," Dumoulin said.
"We're here with a strong team and it will be a shame not to make the most out of it. It's also a strange feeling because we didn't have a Grand Tour preparation with an altitude camp. It's different. It's all coming on top of each other but it's the same for everyone. There will be a winner of the Vuelta though and it would be better if it's one of us."
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