The wording differs slightly but the concept is the same. For now, at least, Roglič’s Vuelta is about riding out the Remco storm and hoping the young Belgian falters somewhere on the road to Madrid.
The trouble is that Evenepoel has shown few signs of relenting so far, having built his current 2:41 advantage over Roglič in three instalments and on three different terrains.
He began by gaining over a minute on Pico Jano on stage 6 and then distanced Roglič again on the vertiginous slopes of Les Praeres before tacking on another 48 seconds in Tuesday’s time trial to Alicante.
It was the first time Roglič had ever lost a time trial on Spanish roads. He expressed satisfaction with his own performance. He had, by his own reckoning, controlled the controllables. The problem was that Evenepoel had ridden 1.6kph faster over the 30km course.
“I hoped for less, and I hoped maybe even to win a few seconds back, but I stay away from predicting the differences in time trials because just you never know,” Engels told Cyclingnews.
“To be very honest, Primoz did a very good TT, but Remco was just in a different league. He was very strong. I have nothing but respect for his performance but also for the performance of Primoz.”
In some ways, Roglič’s defeat in Alicante scarcely altered his task at the Vuelta. After the first week, it already seemed clear that he and the rest of the peloton were relying on an Evenepoel collapse to change the course of this race.
Jumbo-Visma will hope that Roglič can outlast Evenepoel as the race draws on but the Belgian youngster currently appears untouchable in a head-to-head contest. That thought may well shape Roglič’s approach to the summit finish at Peñas Blancas on stage 12 on Thursday.
“At the moment, we’re in the situation that we have to hope that Primoz can still improve a bit,” Engels said.
“We have to wait and see at the moment. If the opportunities come then we have to be up there to take them, but as it looks now, in these few days – for the third week we have to see – but for now it’s about trying to keep the situation as it is. And hope for the best.”
Primoz is a ‘no risk, no glory’ guy
There were question marks over Roglič’s fitness at the start of the Vuelta after he dislocated his shoulder and fractured two vertebrae during his ill-starred tilt at the Tour de France.
Jumbo-Visma’s victory in the opening team time trial in Utrecht and the three-time winners own triumph at Laguardia allayed those concerns. And, despite the time shipped to Evenepoel, the team maintains that Roglič’s display in Alicante showed his condition to be in crescendo.
“He’s fine and he’s getting better. That’s also hopeful for us. It’s not that we see he’s going down,” Engels said.
“No, it looks good. He did a really good performance in the TT, and at Les Praeres, he wasn’t far off. That’s our hope, that he is able to make that last step to get to his top level again. But I also think we need a little more. Because if he gets to that level and Remco stays at his level then it will still be very, very difficult.”
Since Evenepoel took the maillot rojo at Pico Jano, his QuickStep-AlphaVinyl team have ridden with assurance to defend it, though he lost a key part of his guard when Julian Alaphilippe crashed out on stage 11.
Roglič, however, is already without his key mountain domestique Sepp Kuss, who left the Vuelta with illness last weekend. Jumbo-Visma might hope Rohan Dennis can replicate his race-defining cameos at the 2020 Giro d’Italia, but Kuss’ absence will not be easily offset.
“Of course, it would be great if one of the guys here now could make that step and do what Sepp is able to do,” Engels said. “I’m not saying nobody else can do it, but it would be unfair to point to someone else and say, ‘Now you’ve got to do it.’”
Roglič has carried the overall lead into the penultimate weekend in the last five Grand Tours he has finished, winning the Vuelta on three occasions but losing out at both the 2019 Giro d’Italia and the 2020 Tour de France.
This time out, he finds himself in the unfamiliar position of chasing the race, but that was already the case even before his defeat in the Alicante time trial.
“The time trial result doesn’t change the strategy at all. If we changed the strategy now, that would mean we would surrender, and we certainly don’t. Primoz is a ‘no risk, no glory’ guy, he will try to do everything to be in red in Madrid,” Engels said.
“We’ve been at the other side of the table. We’ve been in the lead at this point in the race and we’ve lost it in the third week. Now it’s the other way around and we try to make up somewhere and to continue that fight.”