Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has taken an important but by no means decisive step towards a second successive victory in the Vuelta a España, regaining the overall lead with a fourth stage win in two weeks - but not perhaps by the expected margin.
After a steady start on the first rolling 30 kilometres of the Vuelta's only time trial this year, Roglič accelerated on the steep slopes of Ezaro to pip Will Barta (CCC Team) for the stage victory by a single second, putting 25 seconds into the best-placed of his two toughest GC rivals, EF's Hugh Carthy and 49 seconds on former leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers).
Roglič's margin has enabled him both to regain the overall lead on Carapaz but by a relatively scant 39 seconds, with Carthy remaining in a much boosted third place overall at 47 seconds.
"It's crazy to think that I have won four stages," Roglič - already victorious on stages 1, 8 and 10 on two uphill finishes and in a tough mass sprint - said afterwards, "but I am enjoying myself."
Roglič confirmed that after his disastrous time trial on the Planche des Belles Filles in the Tour he had lost some confidence in his ability against the clock, plus as he told Spanish TV "it's quite a while since I won a time trial" - his last in a Grand Tour was in Pau in the Vuelta last September.
But a year on and two months after the Tour debacle, on a course with some similarities in Spain given its distance and steep finale, Roglič turned in a performance which if not jaw-droppingly good, was much closer to the time trialling Roglič of old than fans have seen for some time.
"That last climb was very hard and I knew I had to keep something back for the end of the stage," Roglič confirmed. "Each time trial is different, but when something like that happens"- like in France on the Planche des Belles Filles - "you do doubt about it a little, but I felt fine. I didn't know if I could gain time on my rivals because I didn't have the references."
While Roglič is now all but certain to have won the Vuelta's points competition - he currently has an advantage of 59 points over Carapaz - the certainty whether he will also retain la roja over the Ecuadorian remains too close to call for now.
But the Slovenian seems more satisfied, nonetheless. As he argued that at the end of a lengthy season in which he has already taken his first Monument and Tour podium finish, his hopes at the Vuelta of a repeat victory were not so high, "and I've come here to enjoy myself and do the best possible."
For now, that 'best' could well see him taking a second Grand Tour on Sunday - although neither Carthy, who amply confirmed in Tuesday's TT he is on the rise, nor Carapaz have said their last word about that either. It looks like being a dramatic last week of the Vuelta.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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