Primož Roglič lost the red jersey but gained a couple of hours at Picón Blanco. Rein Taaramae’s victory on stage 3 of the Vuelta a España saw him move into the overall lead, thus relieving Roglič of his podium and press conference duties on Monday afternoon.
After cresting the summit in seventh place, 1:48 down on Taaramäe but alongside his direct rivals, Roglič was free to descend immediately with his teammates to the Jumbo-Visma bus and travel swiftly to his team hotel.
Sometimes at the Vuelta, an early dinner and massage can feel like a minor victory. Roglič’s smile was obvious even beneath his mask when he paused to speak with reporters atop Picón Blanco.
“I survived the climb. It was OK, eh, it went well. I didn’t have the best [knowledge] of the climbs, but today it went good again, so I’m optimistic,” said Roglič, who freely acknowledged that he had intended to farm out the red jersey to the day’s break.
His Jumbo-Visma squad worked just enough to keep the early escapees’ lead within manageable dimensions, but they showed no inclination to wind up the pace sufficiently to reel them in on the stiff final climb.
Taaramäe won from the break to claim the jersey, while behind, Roglič was content simply to track the accelerations of Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) and Movistar within sight of the summit.
“You obviously see we didn’t care [about keeping the jersey],” Roglič said cheerily. “Our guys were riding all day, they did a great job. Rein has the jersey now, it’s good for us.”
Jumbo-Visma Directeur Sportif Grischa Niermann echoed that thought, telling Eurosport that he had discussed the idea of conceding the jersey with Roglič ahead of the stage. He wore the jersey for 12 days at the 2019 Vuelta and 13 more on last season’s shortened race, before starting this edition with another stint in red.
“Of course, I mean, if he would have wanted to defend the jersey, for sure we would have done it, but he agreed. We were happy to give it away, he is happy not to be in the podium today,” Niermann told Eurosport.
“Maybe he can be in the hotel a little earlier, he can go back by bus with his teammates. They’re all little things but it will all help in the next three weeks.”
Picón Blanco climb
When Roglič and Jumbo-Visma tried to adopt a similar strategy on the 2019 Giro d’Italia, they inadvertently helped to engineer Richard Carapaz’s (then with Movistar) eventual overall victory, but Taaramae looks destined to be a rather more ephemeral race leader.
Carapaz, meanwhile, was the GC contender who fared worst at Picón Blanco on Monday, conceding a minute to Roglič in the closing kilometres, while Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo), Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) also lost a handful of seconds.
Roglič, for his part, came home alongside Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers), Yates and Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious). A block headwind stymied attacks off the front of the red jersey group, and Roglič was content simply to follow moves rather than launch an acceleration of his own. It was perhaps telling that Bernal marked his wheel tightly in the final two kilometres.
“You can see: it’s windy. It’s still 10 degrees, but it feels like winter after yesterday,” said Roglič, who jokingly suggested the climb had offered him some reassurances in light of his travails in the Alps following the crash that ultimately ended his Tour de France prematurely.
“I’m happy, eh. I’m going better in time trials recently, but I can still climb, that’s nice to see.”
Roglič, now third at 30 seconds, remains the best placed of the general classification favourites and he retains a buffer of 27 seconds over his most-touted rival Bernal, but it will not have escaped his notice that he was relatively isolated on the upper reaches of Picón Blanco, particularly once Sepp Kuss was distanced by the red jersey group.
“I think Primož had a good day. As a team, I think Sepp had a lesser day today unfortunately, but we’re right there where we want to be,” Niermann said. “So it was a good day for us.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.