Final week ‘light’ favoring Roglic for Vuelta victory

Backed by the deep and motivated Jumbo-Visma team, it’s going to take a major mistake or mishap for this Vuelta to slip away

Photo: Getty Images

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BURGOS, Spain (VN) — Which Primoz Roglic will show up in the final days of the Vuelta a España? The Roglic of May, who arrived on his knees to take third at the Giro d’Italia? Or the Roglic of last summer, when he won a stage and finished fourth in only his second Tour de France?

So far, it looks like the Jumbo-Visma captain has things firmly under control as the peloton simmered on its second and final rest day in what’s been a hard-fought opening two weeks.

“I remember last year, when I was feeling really good in the third week at the Tour,” Roglic said. “I am hoping for the same thing here.”

The Slovenian rode out of the Cantabrian Mountains of northern Spain after an intense weekend with the red leader’s jersey firmly in his grasp. Second-place rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) struggled on the “Galibier of Asturias” on Monday, ceding a half-minute to Roglic. He’s now 2:48 back.

Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué now believes the Vuelta is Roglic’s to lose, but he promised the Spanish “blues” will keep fighting to try to pry open a weakness.

“The strongest always wins in a grand tour,” said Unzué, who has a few titles under his belt. “Roglic has been the most solid, marking the differences in the time trial at Pau. And in the five mountain stages, he’s been with the best every day.

“He hasn’t shown any weakness,” he added. “He’s the strongest and that’s why he’s dominating.”

Still, Movistar and others are hoping Roglic will pull a “Dumoulin,” a reference to the 2015 Vuelta when it appeared that Tom Dumoulin had the overall in the bag. A penultimate-stage ambush by Astana saw Fabio Aru snatch away overall victory, and an out-gunned Dumoulin, who was gapped in the mountains north of Madrid, plummeted to sixth overall.

As the dust settled Tuesday — on a rest day held a day later than usual to accommodate a local Spanish holiday Monday — there are only four real days of racing left.

With Jumbo-Visma closing ranks around Roglic, capped by Sepp Kuss’s stage win Sunday and Roglic’s astute defense in Asturias on Monday to close out week two, the race could turn its focus to the other podium positions.

Nipping at Valverde’s heels are Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates) and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), at 3:42 and 3:59 back, third and fourth, respectively. Those two are dueling for a podium spot, perhaps at Valverde’s peril. The aging world champion struggled Monday, but shrugged it off as having a bad day after having a very good one Sunday. Pogacar, meanwhile, continues to defy expectations.

“I’m tired, before and after the stages,” admitted the grand tour rookie. “But I continue to feel good during the race. I hope to be at the top in the last week, too.”

If Roglic is feeling strong, he can play off the others and then counter over the top as the trailing trio duel for positioning. Even if he has a moment of crisis, Roglic can limit his losses and still have plenty of margin to carry red into Madrid’s sprint stage Sunday.

Only two of the remaining four stages could present serious problems. Thursday’s four-climb march across the mountains north of Madrid is similar terrain to where Dumoulin folded in 2015. Saturday’s seven-climb, 190km stage in the Sierra de Gredos features the most vertical of any stage so far in what’s already been a climb-heavy Vuelta.

A hiccup late in the third week can lead to catastrophic losses, and Roglic’s rivals are promising to pile on the pressure to test him in the dastardly roads that climb steeply out of Spain’s northern meseta.

“The mountains around Madrid have buried many people,” Valverde said. “Anyone can crack in the third week. We’re realistic, and so far, Roglic has been untouchable. But we’ve also seen him struggle. As I have said, we don’t know what’s going to happen with him.”

With Roglic having such a big lead, what’s sure is that his rivals cannot leave it to Saturday’s stage. Even the transition stages Wednesday and Friday can see crosswinds and provide some terrain for a surprise.

So far, though, Roglic has been cautious off the bike, especially when dealing with the media. But on the bike, he’s been flawless throughout the race. Take away the first-day crash in the team time trial, and he has finished with the leading favorites, or taken time.

Backed by the deep and motivated Jumbo-Visma team, it’s going to take a major mistake or mishap on Roglic’s part for this Vuelta to slip away from him.

“I’m really enjoying the race so far,” he said. “I have to stay focused on doing well in the third week.”

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