After winning at Lagos de Covadonga, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) may not have put on the same spectacular climbing display on Thursday’s second monster mountain day on stage 18 of the Vuelta a España. But then again, there was hardly any need.
On the Queen stage of the Vuelta a España, Roglič played an ultra-solid defensive game, chasing down Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on two occasions late on while he was notably less reactive when Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) went up the road.
But in the closing kilometre of a searing final acceleration, very much one of the Slovenian’s trademark moves on tough summit finishes, he closed López's advantage to a scant 14 seconds.
At the same time, the late counter-attack gained Roglič a gap on the two riders able to follow him, Enric Mas (Movistar) and Bernal, and has further increased his overall advantage.
As he leaves the Asturian mountains, Roglič now leads the GC by 2:30 on Mas, and 2:53 on López. A third victory in the Vuelta a España may not be a total certainty yet, then, but it would take a brave person to bet against it happening at this point in the game.
“It’s definitely one day closer and definitely also true that the Queen stage and the biggest climbs are now behind us,” Roglič said afterwards.
“But there are still some days left, I need to stay focussed. Things can still happen.”
As Movistar confirmed they had suspected would happen, Roglič said that his strategy at the top of following Mas, rather than going with López when the Colombian attacked, had been “to focus on Enric. Although López was definitely strong today, he was able to take some seconds.”
He had opted to follow Bernal, he added, not because he was particularly keen to keep the Ineos Grenadiers racer under control. “I was right on Bernal’s wheel when he jumped, and I wasn’t right behind López. I just followed Bernal when he went for it.”
Roglič’s performance in the mountains of Asturias, in any case, was more consistent than last year, where he suffered on the upper slopes of the Angliru as Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) took the stage and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) regained the overall lead.
“This was for sure one of the hardest climbs I’ve done, quite different from yesterday [Lagos de Covadonga]. I was happy to get to the top. It was very different to the Angliru, too, which normally suits me more with those harder ramps. But this time I did well here.”
With three stage wins in his palmares from the Vuelta a España this year and a red jersey in Santiago an increasingly virtual certainty, Roglič denied being disappointed he could not take a victory in the Vuelta’s toughest day in the mountains.
“Not really,” he concluded. “I got some seconds on my rival, and yesterday [Wednesday] was a super day for me, too.”
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