There’s been a lot talk and speculation about Primož Roglič’s form ahead of the Vuelta a España, intrigue that has intensified in recent days with his Jumbo-Visma team admitting that he is still feeling pain in his back having broken two vertebrae at the Tour de France.
The Vuelta’s opening day team time trial may have ended with Jumbo 13 seconds better off than their nearest challengers, but neither that nor the two sprint stages that ensued offered any clear answers as to Roglič’s true form.
Stage four, however, did. Quite emphatically. Roglič appears totally fine and already on course to win a record-equalling fourth red jersey.
The Slovenian’s team didn’t let anyone go clear on the penultimate climb of the Puerto de Herrara, keeping it together until the top where Roglič sprinted for three maximum bonus seconds at the summit.
Then, after a fast and hair-raising descent that eventually led into the finishing village of Laguardia, Roglič bided his time and then powered away from the field to win the stage comfortably ahead of Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen, with it taking another 10 bonus seconds.
Many of his GC competitors were allocated the same time, but crucially some – most notably Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco), Sergio Higuita (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) – were seven seconds in arrears, and when bonus seconds are factored in they ceded 20 seconds to Roglič during the stage.
It means that with only a fifth of the race completed, Roglič – he whose form was so unknown – already has an advantage of over a minute to expected rivals Higuita, Hugh Carthy (EF Education-EasyPost) and Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën).
No wonder he cut a very content smile at the finish. “It’s a nice surprise. I am super happy,” he said. “The most important thing was that we could see that the legs are working good again.”
They are. Very well by the look of things, the way he sprinted to take the maximum offer of 13 bonus seconds a sight that will have sent dread into the peloton.
“It was a hard race the whole day, a super-fast stage,” he added. “In the final there was an opportunity to fight for the stage win. I had the legs so I had to go. It’s good to have some seconds in front on behind.”
Earlier in the day, his team’s sports director Grischa Niermann hinted that Roglič would not want to be in red so soon, and that Jumbo would be content with other teams holding the lead.
Referencing the fact that three other riders from the Dutch team have already worn the leader’s jersey so far, Niermann told Cycling Weekly: “It’s something really great to have a leader’s jersey in a Grand Tour, and most of the riders have never and will never experience it. We have one guy who doesn’t want to have the leader’s jersey at this stage of the race, and that’s Primož.
“The leader’s jersey brings with it a lot of obligations and it was clear that we wouldn’t control [the race] on sprint stages. Looking back to the last year when we had the leader’s jersey with Primož, every stage except the real spring stages, the whole peloton would look at us control the race and to do everything.
“We are happy every day we have the leader’s jersey, but the big goal is to have the jersey in Madrid at the finish.”
Clearly, though, Roglič did not share the same script as Niermann. “The plan [was that] we changed every day the guy with the red jersey,” he continued. “Today was my lucky day and we see what tomorrow brings.”
Rather ominously for those looking to dethrone him of his title as the King of the Vuelta, Roglič looked ahead to the rest of the race, buoyed by his performance in the Basque Country.
“How to say,” he wondered. “I mean, it’s really just the beginning.”