Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič and his battle to lose the red jersey, before winning it

Primož Roglič has twice lost the Vuelta a España's red jersey on purpose. Why has he done it and can he win it back when it really matters?

Photo: Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

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Everyone dreams of a grand tour leader’s jersey, so why would someone so readily give it away?

Primož Roglič is the only rider to have worn the red jersey on two separate occasions during this year’s Vuelta a España, totaling six days, and he is the only rider to deliberately get rid of it and actively avoid taking it back — for now at least.

The Jumbo-Visma rider did it two days into the race after picking it up with victory in the opening time trial, allowing a major breakaway to gain a significant amount of time to catapult Rein Taaramäe into the overall race lead.

Also read: ‘No risk, no glory’: Jumbo-Visma defends Primož Roglič attack at Vuelta a España

“Yes, you can be happy to lose a leader’s jersey,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann said after stage 2. “Our plan was to control the break, but we are happy to give the jersey away.”

Roglič concurred and told reporters: “It was good for us — I’m happy.”

He tried to avoid taking it back throughout the first week but found himself back in red after Kenny Elissonde fell foul of the crosswinds on stage 6. No sooner was he back in red, Roglič was already looking for opportunities to offload it and though he couldn’t manage it the following day he finally succeeded in passing it onto Odd Eiking on Tuesday.

“Before the start, we also explained that we were happy with the situation and the tactics were to maintain the situation as it was. Then, of course, we had a really big breakaway after a long and hard fight and then the first switch in the tactics was that it was a really good opportunity again to give away the jersey, which we did,” sport director Addy Engels said of Jumbo-Visma’s stage 10 goals.

The whys and the hows

Though it might look a little odd to see a team and rider, who are fighting to win the overall classification, doing their hardest to avoid being in the race lead, there is good reason for it.

Of course, there is the obvious one of saving the team’s riders from peloton pacing duties. Time spent on the front of the peloton is energy burned that can’t be recovered fully and the fatigue from it will build up over the three weeks.

Also read: Primož Roglič silences critics with stunning stage victory

However, there is the time spent that we don’t see on the TV cameras, but it is arguably much more punishing and that is the post-stage rigmarole. All jersey wearers have a busy time of it after a stage but the race leader, and the stage winner, get the brunt of it.

There’s the post-stage flash interview, the podium ceremony — which can take a while if you’ve got more than one jersey — and then there is the long parade of TV and radio interviews. It’s not as bad at the Vuelta as it is at the Tour de France but it can take a while to get through and some riders opt to bring a chair with them to save their legs.

Once they’re done with that, there’s the press conference for the written media. If a rider spends a long time in the race lead, these press conferences can get pretty short, though. In between all of that, there is the matter of doping control — which can take some time if the rider is dehydrated.

By the time all of this is done, most of the peloton will be well on its way to the next hotel — the riders may even be there if it’s a short transfer. Those involved in the post-stage protocols can be more than an hour behind their teammates and often don’t get the team bus back to the hotel and go by car instead.

With all of this to contend with, it’s no wonder that Roglič is so keen to dispatch with the red jersey and give some willing takers an opportunity to bask in its glow.

There is an art to giving the leader’s jersey away and picking the right rider is key to avoiding ending up with egg on your face. Nobody wants to give a jersey away as a “temporary measure” only to see that rider keep it.

In the past, Taaramäe and Elissonde may have been deemed too dangerous to have the jersey, but both were comparatively safe bets so early in the race. Had it been later this week or next week, the decision may have been different for the Jumbo-Visma team.

Current race leader Eiking will not be considered a threat, but Guillaume Martin of Cofidis, in second place, is less likely to give up the leader’s jersey without a fight. Martin climbed into the top 10 at the Tour de France through his aggressive racing and will want to cling on for a strong result. His chances of riding into Santiago de Compostela are slim but he’s not a rider that should be easily discounted.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that if and when the red jersey comes back to the group of favorites that it will be Roglič that claims it. The Movistar duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López is close behind him and ready to pounce if the Jumbo-Visma rider makes a mistake.

The fight for the red jersey is proving to be an interesting battle, but the fight to lose it is equally as intriguing. The question is, who will be wearing it when the music stops?

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