Vuelta a Espana
(Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Roglic has red target on his back in Asturian shoot-out

Rivals will be trying to unsettle Roglic in two decisive climbing stages looming in northern Spain.

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) will have a red target on his back, as in the red leader’s jersey, going into back-to-back summit finales on Sunday and Monday that could decide this Vuelta a España.

But based on the way he’s coolly been racing for two weeks, the Vuelta race leader doesn’t seem too worried about it.

“For sure they will attack from the beginning,” Roglic said. “It will be a full-gas race. I have to be ready for that, with the whole team. We’ll try to do our best.”

So far for Roglic, “doing his best” has worked out just fine so far in this Vuelta. After shaking off an opening day crash in the team time trial, Roglic has ridden a near-perfect race. Even tumbles in the weather-nightmare at Andorra last weekend could not knock Roglic off his game.

Unlike the Giro d’Italia in May, when Roglic took early gains against the clock only to succumb in the mountains, Roglic appears to be in the driver’s seat in this Vuelta.

“There are two hard stages to come,” Roglic continued. “We will see how the race will go, for us, we will try to do our best. I am focused on myself and try to manage everything.”

Roglic will carry a commanding lead to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), second at 2:25, and to third-place Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates) at 3:01 back. The 20-year-old Slovenian won his second stage Friday when he and compatriot Roglic rode away from the field up Los Machucos to take control of the race.

The longer, more sustained climbs to Sanctuario de Acebo on Sunday, and the even longer summit at La Cubilla on Monday could push Roglic over the top. Following Tuesday’s rest day, the closing five days of racing heading toward Madrid features only one day considered truly dangerous for the GC riders in stage 20.

If Roglic doesn’t buckle these next two days, the race could begin for the podium.

“These two stages will be very hard in Asturias,” Pogacar said. “We will do everything to keep this place. My legs feel a bit tired, but I think everyone’s does, too, so it will be a big fight.”

The ever-surprising Pogacar crossed the line in Oviedo with a bloody elbow after he and Valverde both went down in a late-race crash with about 1km to go. Roglic was only caught up in the mess of bodies and carbon fiber, but Pogacar hit the ground and said he was not seriously injured.

“Most of the day was stress-free,” Pogacar said. “In the end I don’t know what happened but suddenly half the group was on the ground and I was among them. I’m OK, just a few cuts, but some others came off a lot worse.”

Valverde, too, touched pavement, but also confirmed he was not seriously injured ahead of the decisive two mountain summits.

“I fell over when I was already nearly stopped,” Valverde said at the line. “I have a bit of a pain in the wrist, but it’s nothing. With the stage finishing a bit uphill, everyone wanted to be at the front.”

All eyes will be on Roglic heading into this Vuelta’s crescendo. The Slovenian appears more controlled and confident than he was in the Giro, and has kept his rivals on their heels. Jumbo-Visma insiders say Roglic took confidence from his career-first grand tour podium at the Giro, and is determined to stake his claim to win the Vuelta.

Following his victory in Pau against the clock, and his knock-out punch at Los Machucos, Roglic sounded like a man in control of his destiny.

“I don’t know the climbs, so it’s the first time for me,” Roglic said. “I just saw the profiles. I think there are two very hard days coming up, especially [Sunday], the final climb is very difficult. And the other one also. They say it is beautiful, like Asturias’ Galibier or something, with really nice views, so yeah, I’m looking forward to racing there.”

The view from the top is always better, especially if Roglic ends up still in red by Monday’s end.

The Vuelta also packs surprises in the final week, but the way this race is unfolding, the only surprise could be if Roglic doesn’t win.