Primož Roglič had the fastest time when he crossed the line on Alicante’s Avenida de la Estación on stage 10 of the Vuelta a España, but he realised there was little point in taking his place in the hot seat by the podium area. By the time he found it, Remco Evenepoel would already have beaten his mark.
Instead, Roglič elected to make his way directly towards his Jumbo-Visma van to warm down, leaving the waiting television crews flatfooted as he nudged his way through the bedlam of the finish area and then disappeared out of sight. The few journalists who followed him had to rely on the indications of holidaymakers – “¿Has visto Roglič?” – to navigate the backstreets and locate the Slovenian.
They eventually found Roglič turning his legs over on his turbo trainer, and, despite the intensity of the heat and the effort, he was still smooth of pedal stroke and serene of expression. Perhaps he felt he held up his end of the bargain by averaging over 54kph along the 30.9kph course, but that was still only enough for second on the stage. The irresistible Evenepoel was some 1.3kph faster, winning by 48 seconds. In the overall standings, Roglič moves up to second place, but he is now 2:41 off the red jersey.
“I mean I’m happy about it,” Roglič insisted after nodding for the reporters to draw closer. “I can say I did a nice time trial, I’m proud of it, definitely. It was a nice result and big congrats for Remco, he’s on a different level at the moment.”
Evenepoel claimed his first stage win of the Vuelta in Alicante, but he had already distanced all of his rivals for overall victory on the summit finishes at Pico Jano and Les Praeres in the first week. The 22-year-old has been untouchable through the opening half of the race, though Roglič downplayed the idea that his dominance was a surprise. Evenepoel did, after all, offer a firm signal of intent with his crushing victory at the Clásica San Sebastián last month.
“I would be happier if he wasn’t going so well, but he didn’t need to show that he can do so well, you know what I mean,” Roglič said. “He’s won a lot of big races. He’s already shown how strong he is. And he’s showing it also now at the moment.”
Roglič boasted a 4-1 record against Evenepoel in time trials before Tuesday’s stage, even if the Belgian’s sparkling form through the opening week of this Vuelta made him the obvious favourite here. Perhaps more pertinently, this was Roglič’s first defeat in an individual time trial at the Vuelta. His three overall wins were built around being the race’s pre-eminent rouleur. This time out, he must find another way to win.
“I mean, if you are here every year, then sooner or later you can lose. If you are not here, then you cannot lose,” Roglič smiled of his broken sequence in Vuelta time trials. “So yeah, definitely he’s flying at the moment. But we will see. It’s a long race and, like I said, for myself, I’m happy and proud about it.”
In his stage racing career, Roglič has, by and large, tended to lead from the front, establishing an early lead and then gradually increasing it in small increments, like steady dividends on a sober investment. To annex this Vuelta, it increasingly looks as though Roglič will have to take a gamble big somewhere between here and Madrid, though his odds have not been helped by the loss of his key mountain domestique Sepp Kuss.
“We have to go day by day. At the moment the most important thing is to try to stay healthy, in one piece and avoid the problems,” said Roglič. “Like I said, we’ll go day by day searching for the opportunities that will come.”
The second week features three summit finishes, including stage 15 to the friendly expanses of Sierra Nevada, Roglič’s preferred training base. He will have to hope, too, that the heat of Andalusia, the weight of the maillot rojo and the sheer length of the race might conspire to slow Evenepoel’s momentum, even if it seemed a faint hope in Alicante on Tuesday.
“We need to look day by day,” Roglič repeated. “There are still eleven stages to come.”