Any shreds of doubt about Primož Roglič’s form or objectives in the Vuelta a España this year were swept aside in less than a kilometre as the Jumbo-Visma racer powered to the front of the pack and into the lead in the tough uphill finish on stage 4 at Laguardia.
Question marks over Roglic’s form and whether he could go for a fourth straight title in Spain were bound to be present after a month away from racing and his enforced abandon of the Tour de France, his previous event, with back injuries.
But although the major climbs are yet to come and the Vuelta has barely begun, Roglic has clearly shown his condition and confidence are more than intact. And as for his rivals, the fact that the 10th Vuelta stage win of his career was taken with such apparent ease (and with marked similarities to his opening victory at Arrate in the 2020 race, too,) can only be disheartening.
“It was always the team plan to change the lead every day,” Roglič said after he succeeded teammates Robert Gesink, Mike Teunissen, and Eduardo Affini in the red jersey, “so today it was my turn.”
“We know why we came here, to try and have the jersey later in Madrid, but the situation is what it is. So we’ll enjoy the situation just as it is for this moment.”
Roglič also gained a tidy seven seconds on several of his rivals, including Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), João Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) and Simon Yates (BikeExchange-Jayco). Indeed, his lead is not yet as significant as it was after winning at Arrate in 2020, where the list of rivals was reduced to just 10 at less than a minute after one stage. But after tracking down Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) for bonus seconds on top of the Herrera climb and then delivering such a powerful blow at the finish, he is already clearly a step or three ahead of the rest.
“It was a super hard stage, all day, super fast, huh?” he added. “And in the final there was an opportunity to fight for the stage win and I had it, so I gave it my all.”
Rather than his rivals, perhaps the key question for Roglič is how he and Jumbo-Visma handle holding the lead so early. But with three overall victories already in his palmares and fourth now a clear goal, Roglič has one big advantage: his track record is such that he is under far less pressure to hold onto the lead come what may.
Indeed with memories of how he ‘lent’ the red to a non-GC threat last year, Odd Christian Eiking, the question of whether he would try to keep the lead from hereon was not slow in coming.
“We will see, I don’t care much, the most important thing is to have it in Madrid,” he said.
Certainly, Roglič’s confidence is now close to full again, as he confirmed categorically that he felt that he was strong enough to try to win the Vuelta for a fourth, record-equalling time.
“Yes, I believe that I have a strong team around me and we will do our best,” he observed. “But we’ll see this, it’s just the beginning of the Vuelta but better to have some seconds in front rather than behind.”
His opponents will doubtless point out that Roglič is a long way from winning the Vuelta and a lot can happen in three weeks. But after four days, the Slovenian is already re-established as the man to beat.
After winning the team time trial and placing four different riders in the lead, for a second Grand Tour in a row, Jumbo-Visma are looking tougher than ever to beat too.