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Vuelta a España leader Roglic anticipating major battle on Picon Blanco summit finish

BURGOS SPAIN AUGUST 15 Primoz Roglic of Slovenia and Team Jumbo Visma celebrates winning the Red Leader Jersey on the podium ceremony after the 76th Tour of Spain 2021 Stage 2 a 1667km stage from Caleruega Monasterio de Santo Domingo de Guzmn to Burgos Gamonal lavuelta LaVuelta21 CapitalMundialdelCiclismo on August 15 2021 in Burgos Spain Photo by Stuart FranklinGetty Images
Roglic is already in the red jersey again (Image credit: Getty Images)

Vuelta a España leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) came through stage 2's fraught finale unscathed and all-but invisible, but he predicted that on Monday’s summit finish at Picón Blanco the GC racers like himself will be much more in the thick of the action.

Unlike many of the Vuelta contenders, Roglic has never previously tackled the ferociously difficult eight-kilometre climb, with its windswept summit, average gradient of more than nine per cent, and pitches of up to 18 per cent.

However, the double Vuelta champion says he is more than aware that he will face some serious challenges on the race’s first summit finish of nine.

"From what I can see it’s a super hard climb, we will have to give it everything," Roglic told reporters after finishing stage 2 safely in the front group in 33rd place.

"The stage will be nervous again, too, as it could be windy on the flatter part of the course, and then on the climb we can expect some time gaps between the GC guys."

After a day in the lead of the Vuelta, morale appears to remain high in the Roglic camp. Asked which rivals he feared the most on the slopes of Picón Blanco, Roglic said in what presumably was a joke: 'For sure the fastest ones, but it is hard to say know who will be the best."

While predictions of echelons shattering the peloton on Sunday’s trek across the exposed plains of Burgos did not materialize, the bunch stretched notably when a prevailing headwind switched to a cross-wind on a couple of occasions. And Roglic confirmed that he had been staying on high alert throughout.

"A couple of times it was more nervous, but it wasn’t as windy as we thought. We had enough with the heat," he said, in reference to how temperatures soared into the high thirties again early in the afternoon. 

As for the crash that saw rivals like Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) and Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) delayed, Roglic said he hadn’t been caught up in it.

"These things happen in cycling but we had a bit of luck on our side," he admitted.

While Picón Blanco is looming large on the horizon for all the GC contenders, Roglic repeated his ‘offer’ of the leader’s jersey to a rider who would not be a threat long-term, although for now there have been no takers.

"It wouldn’t be a problem to lose it, and I would be happy if I put the leader’s jersey on after the time trial in Santiago on the last stage," he argued. 

As things stand, Roglic goes into stage three with la roja on his back and a 14-second advantage over his closest GC challenger Alexsandr Vlasov (Astana Premier Tech) while key rival Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) is at 27 seconds - proof it has been a rock-solid opening weekend for the double Vuelta champion. 

However, on a climb as difficult Picón Blanco, any weaknesses in Roglic’s armour will quickly become evident.

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.