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They say that good things come in threes. Can that be the case for Primož Roglič?
Roglič will line up at the Vuelta a España next weekend as the two-time defending champion and with a shot of becoming the first rider in 16 years of taking three straight titles — and only the third in the race’s history.
The last person to do the triple was Roberto Heras between 2003 and 2005, while Tony Rominger is the only other rider to have achieved the feat.
Over the last two years, Roglič has ridden the Vuelta a España looking to put to bed some earlier disappointment. In 2019, it was the frustration of what could have been at the Giro d’Italia, while in 2020 it came after the shock final-day defeat at the Tour de France at the hands of Tadej Pogačar.
There have been some bitter disappointments for Roglič this season, not least being forced to leave the Tour de France after only one week, which drove him to lay it on the line on the Olympic time trial.
Taking gold on the Fuji International Speedway in the individual time trial last week will likely put Roglič in a much better mindset as he lines up in Burgos for the opening stage in Spain, and the two-and-a-half-week gap to recover from his effort will be gladly welcomed.
“Luckily in cycling, you have a lot of races and a lot of challenges,” Roglič said of his intentions to ride the Vuelta a España after claiming gold at the Olympic Games. “The last few races I did, they didn’t go the way I wanted but I always believed. Every achievement is special and this one [the Olympic Games] for me is super, super special.
“I just went all in, and I didn’t care. I was just giving 150 percent, really everything, everything and at the end, I was just super happy that I finally was finished, I was over the finish line, and then the rest tell me how fast I was.
“For us, it’s just so many sacrifices for all the family. We all have to work so hard to achieve good things and this is definitely for them. It’s just super nice that I can also achieve these beautiful things. In the end, the most happy thing is that I’m just in one piece and coming back home,” Roglič said.
Rather than frustration and disappointment, Roglič will be driven on by the confidence of victory at the Vuelta a España in 2021. Which mix proves most potent remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: Roglič will be racing to win.
As if he could try to do anything else.
A tough GC contest
Roglič had to battle hard for his 2020 Vuelta victory thanks to a late surge from fellow Olympic gold medallist Richard Carapaz. The Ecuadorian had the Slovenian on the ropes until Movistar famously nullified his advantage as it tried to take advantage of and distance a struggling Dan Martin.
Come next week, Roglič will face even fiercer competition in his record-equalling bid.
Carapaz is likely to be back for some more after a summer that saw him make history with his Tour de France podium finish and a gold medal in the Olympic Games road race. However, it is Carapaz’s Colombian teammate, Egan Bernal, that will pose the biggest Ineos threat to Roglič’s chance at a Vuelta hat-trick.
Bernal’s build-up to the Spanish grand tour was somewhat nudged off the tracks Tuesday with a crash on the opening stage of the Vuelta a Burgos, but he’s still the hot favorite for the jersey rojo alongside Roglič.
Of course, Roglič’s compatriot Tadej Pogačar will be a five-star favorite if he chooses to head to Burgos next week. The Slovenian is still an uncertain starter after a busy year of racing, and he could opt to focus on shorter racing blocks ahead of the world championships in September.
We’ll have to wait and see on that one.
Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet, Hugh Carthy, Rigoberto Urán, Miguel Ángel Lopez, and Enric Mas will all also pose significant threats to Roglič’s chances.
The Vuelta a España can be a strange race at times, with it often providing a last chance saloon for grand tour riders on a difficult season. While a small number — such as Bernal this year — specifically target the race from the outset, for many the Vuelta is only inked onto the race program much later than others.
The added fatigue of a long season of racing on top of a rag-tag bunch of favorites helps to provide some unpredictable racing across the three weeks.
This year’s contenders are a mixed group of those who rode the Giro d’Italia in May, and those who focused on a Tour de France — some of who had an Olympics chaser.
While Roglič has had a slightly busier travel and race program compared to those that targeted the Giro d’Italia and didn’t ride in Tokyo, his race-day count is pretty low thanks to his no-race approach to the Tour de France and his early abandon from the race.
Though Roglič would have preferred to come away with the Tour’s yellow jersey, his decision to leave the race rather than tough it out through injury should stand him in good stead as the Vuelta approaches arrival in Madrid.
Roglič has readily admitted that he often suffers more than most with fatigue towards the end of a three-week race, and it was fully evident as he struggled to keep apace with Carapaz on the Alto de Covatilla last year.
His low level of race days could stand him in good stead as he looks to join an elite club of Vuelta a España champions.