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

Why Jumbo-Visma sent Roglic to the Vuelta and not the Tour

The Vuelta was never part of Roglic's plans for 2019, but after finishing the Giro on his knees, the team reshuffled the calendar to bring the Slovenian to Spain

A mid-season adjustment is poised to pay off handsomely for Primoz Roglic and Jumbo-Visma.

After a big weekend in Asturias, Roglic is pushing closer to overall victory in the Vuelta a España. The funny thing is, the season’s third grand tour was never originally part of Roglic’s 2019 plans.

The Slovenian was supposed to race the Tour de France instead. It was only after a hard-fought Giro d’Italia that left Roglic exhausted and empty that Jumbo-Visma began to look to the Spanish grand tour.

“The plan was Giro-Tour at the beginning of the year,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “After the Giro, it was immediately obvious that the Tour would not be possible.”

Roglic is the latest rider who is taking advantage of the Vuelta’s “last-chance saloon” placement on the international calendar. Since it moved from April to late summer in the 1990s, the race has continued to grow in stature and prestige as more GC riders put the Vuelta on their racing radars.

Roglic’s mid-season schedule modification is having major implications. As a result of giving Roglic a break after the Giro, instead of prodding him to race the Tour, team is zeroing in on winning its first overall grand tour title under current management.

Roglic is bubbling with confidence thanks to his steadiness and consistency that he did not have in May. Roglic is not daunted by the tangled mass of mountains standing between him and Madrid.

“I like all of the climbs,” a satisfied Roglic said. “When you’re good, you don’t have much problem on any kind of climb.”

Roglic clearly benefitted from the post-Giro respite. After finishing third in the Giro, he only raced in the Slovenian national championships in late June, and roared into the Vuelta fresh and newly motivated.

In contrast, Roglic was in no shape to race the Tour after fighting to a hard-earned podium spot in May.

“He was done physically after the Giro. He was at his end,” Engels explained. “To do a good Tour after the Giro, you have to go to altitude immediately, to focus. He would not have been top shape in the Tour, and you have to be.”

The decision to reshuffle the team’s calendar didn’t come without other implications. Without Roglic, the road opened up for Steven Kruijswijk to ride as a singular leader in July, which he paid back with the team’s first Tour podium with third in Paris.

And it also shook things up for the Vuelta.

“We took this direction to target the Vuelta,” he said. “That has consequences, because George [Bennett] was planning to do the Vuelta as a race leader. Steven as well, like last year, then you bring a third leader in. That’s complicated.”

Any would-be snags were soon untangled out on the road. First, Kruijswijk crashed in the opening day team time trial, and abandoned a few days later with knee injury. Then Roglic’s superb form soon was obvious to everyone inside the team bus, and Bennett, just as he had done at the Tour, switched to a helper role.

And Roglic, enjoying a depth of support both on the flats and in the mountains he did not have at the ill-fated Giro run, is riding high.

On Sunday’s stage to the Santuario del Acebo, a confident Roglic coolly marked the attacking Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), opening the door for faithful helper Sepp Kuss to claim a breakout grand tour stage win.

That all adds up to a confident and dominant Roglic who is now in pole position to win his first grand tour overall title in what is just his fifth grand tour start.

“Primoz came here to win. It didn’t look good after the first stage, but luckily on the stage to Calpe, he took back that time to many guys,” Engels said. “Our goal is to win this Vuelta and be on the podium in Madrid to have the red.”

So far, it’s looking pretty good. If Roglic can safely negotiate Monday what’s being called the “Galibier of Asturias” in the new climb to La Cubilla, Madrid is ever closer.

Not bad for a race that was never part of Roglic’s plans at the beginning of the season.