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(Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Roglic emerges as most dangerous rival to climbers

The Slovenian time-trial ace is better than his rivals in the race against the clock. The question is whether he can match them in the mountains.

LUCENA, Spain (VN) — Primoz Roglic is emerging as the most dangerous rival to the fleet of top climbers in this Vuelta a España.

With an individual team time waiting Tuesday in France and Roglic stubbornly hanging on in the mountains, the Jumbo-Visma star is causing heartburn inside the buses of his rivals.

“Roglic is the most dangerous and he’s climbing well,” said stage-winner Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). “And in the time trial, on paper he’s the best. To win is complicated.”

Movistar and Astana might be in the pole position to win this Vuelta, but they know the road to Madrid goes through Roglic.

Just as Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué celebrated Valverde’s stage victory Friday, he also cautioned that Roglic can take back huge swaths of time in France.

“Now we have to see what Roglic can do next Tuesday in the time trial,” Unzué told VeloNews. “For the time trial, we can expect Roglic can take one minute and a half. We’d like it to be a little less, but those are the numbers.”

Friday’s dramatic stage to Mas de la Costa saw four riders emerge as the clear favorites to win this Vuelta. Valverde and Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana, race leader Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and Roglic are clearly at a higher level than the rest of the field.

Roglic rode at the front of the pack alongside Quintana, Lopez, and Valverde on stage 7. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

“I have never seen a grand tour in doing more than 30 as a rider and sport director that’s had this much selection so fast,” said EF-Education First sport director Juanma Garate. “This has been one of the hardest first weeks ever in a grand tour.”

That difficulty, coupled with some costly crashes and a few misfires, has seen the Vuelta quickly winnowed down to a four-horse race.

Of those four, only Roglic possesses the skills against the clock to take control of this Vuelta. The 36km loop around Pau is on undulating, technical terrain, and riders like Quintana, Valverde and López know they will surrender costly, perhaps lethal time to Roglic.

Everyone admits that Roglic will press the advantage in Pau next week. So far, the other favorites have been unable to shake the unflappable Roglic.

Flanked by a very strong Jumbo-Visma team, led by American sensation Sepp Kuss in the mountains, Roglic is seeing the kind of support so far in this Vuelta that he did not enjoy in the Giro d’Italia in May.

Roglic fell short of overall victory at the Italian grand tour, and roared into this Vuelta intent on making up for it.

“Primoz is here to win,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “The time trial is to his advantage, but there are many mountains in this Vuelta. We don’t see it as a problem. Our goal is to win this Vuelta and be on the podium in Madrid to have red.”

So far, Roglic is doing all the right things. In fact, if Jumbo-Visma had not crashed in the opening team time trial, Roglic would likely have been in the red jersey already.

As it stands now, López holds a slender six-second lead to Roglic, and the Colombian realizes he needs to move in the mountains when the terrain is favorable. López admitted that Friday’s explosively steep finale up Mas de la Costa was not ideal for his style of racing, but hopes for more in the second week of the Vuelta.

“We knew today is not our kind of climb. The most important things was to stay with the favorites to the top of the climb,” López said. “There are still a lot of climbing stages ahead of us. Andorra suits me better.”

All eyes now turn to Sunday’s five-climb, 94km stage in Andorra. If Roglic can hang tough again, he’ll be the big favorite to win the Vuelta. Of course, he’s been in that position before.

Roglic’s learned a few things since May. This time it might not be so easy to crack him if he manages to capture the lead. And with Tom Dumoulin joining Jumbo-Visma next season, Roglic has one more reason to win to show everyone who should be considered first captain at the ever-improving Dutch outfit.