It’s always difficult to read too much into what Primož Roglič says because he doesn’t speak with hidden messages or subtle references.
Yet after stage 10 of the Vuelta a España, it was also hard not to escape the feeling that Roglič was trying to say something without actually muttering the exact words.
The implication felt clear: for the first time, he really thinks he is not going to defend his title, and for the first time in four years he is not going to win the Vuelta.
Race leader Remco Evenepoel won the time trial in Alicante and put a substantial amount of time into all of his GC rivals, including 48 seconds into Roglič who moved up to second overall thanks to Enric Mas ceding almost two minutes and dropping to third.
At the halfway point of the race Evenepoel has an advantage of 2-41 to Roglič, and the Slovenian already seems keen to start softening the blow of his likely failure to win the race for a fourth consecutive time.
“Every year, sooner or later, you lose,” he said after the conclusion of the time trial. “If you’re not here [with great form], you’re going to lose.” Evenepoel, meanwhile, “is flying at the moment. He’s on a different level at the moment.”
Roglič, 10 years Evenepoel’s senior, has competed in enough Grand Tours to know that anything can happen in a three week race and that the race is not yet sewn up, something he was keen to press despite admitting the large gap to the Belgian.
But he also couldn’t deny that Evenepoel was performing far superior to anyone else. “It’s a long race,” he added. “We will see day by day.
“At the moment [the idea] is to stay healthy and avoid any problems and to stay in one piece, searching for the opportunities that will come.
“I would be happier if he wasn’t going so well. He didn’t need to show that he can go so good – he’s already won a lot of big races. He’s showed how strong he us, and he’s showing it here at the moment.”
While Roglič was unable to win his fifth Vuelta time trial, he was not dissatisfied with his performance in the time trial, especially with it moving him up to second place in the overall standings.
“I think I did a good time trial,” he said. “For myself, I feel proud about my ride today. It was quite fast. At least I didn’t take one hour to cover it. It is how it is. I am happy about today’s result.
“We are just enjoying today’s performance and we will look at it day by day because there are still 11 stages to come.”
Roglič, however, is down to only five teammates, with Edoardo Affini leaving the race before the start of stage 10, and Sepp Kuss departing ahead of the previous stage. Both riders had reported feeling ill with fever.