Vuelta a Espana

Can a ‘fresher’ Roglic hang on this time?

Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma teammates are hoping there’s a different ending to this Vuelta story than what happened at the Giro in May

PAU, Spain (VN) — Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is back in the leader’s jersey at a grand tour after winning a time trial. But will history repeat itself and see Roglic fade in the final week, as he did at the Giro d’Italia, or can he hang on to win his first overall grand tour title?

Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma teammates are hoping there’s a different ending to this Vuelta story than what happened in May.

“So far I am feeling very good in this Vuelta,” Roglic said Tuesday. “I did not have a lot of luck in the Giro. I hope to stay healthy and in one piece.”

The Slovenian smashed it Tuesday, winning a technical 36km time trial around Pau, moving convincingly into the overall lead.

Roglic now leads a pack of climbers by a comfortable margin, 1:52 ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 2:11 to Miguel Ángel López (Astana) and 3:00 up on Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the overnight leader who fell to fourth.

But haven’t we seen how this story ends?

Roglic was in a similar situation in May when he won two early individual time trials, but could not defend his head-start against a similarly lethal group of climbers. Roglic eventually finished third overall, something his team viewed as a success considering it was Roglic’s first shot at winning a grand tour and only the fourth grand tour start of his career.

This time around, Jumbo-Visma and Roglic come with a similar game plan, but a very different confidence level. Everything in May was new. Now Roglic is a grizzled grand tour veteran.

“Primoz learned a lot from the Giro,” said sport director Addy Engels. “He is still the same racer, but he now has that experience of being in the lead, of having the responsibility of the race on his shoulders. That counts for a lot.”

Things are different for Roglic from the Giro to the Vuelta in other ways. In May, he roared into the Giro hot off the most successful spring of his career with a string of victories in every stage race he started. But he ended the month racing on fumes.

This time around, a fresher Roglic is taking on the Vuelta. Roglic last raced at the Slovenian national championships in June. After deciding to skip the Tour de France, the team allowed him to fully recover from the intensity of the Giro. After the Giro, Roglic unplugged and enjoyed the birth of first child. To prepare for the Vuelta, Roglic spent time at altitude training.

“Primoz is fresher now compared to the Giro,” Engels said. “That’s the main difference from the Giro — he has had less racing before this race.”

That freshness has helped him stay with the searing attacks from the climbers in the race’s first week. There is also some concern he might run out of gas. But up to now, Roglic has looked rock steady.

“He has been very strong in the first days of the Vuelta,” Engels said. “There is also a risk to be so strong without so much racing. We are confident in the team that is surrounding him.”

Team strength is another key factor so far in this Vuelta. The Giro saw Laurens De Plus, who was so pivotal during the Tour de France, pull out early. Robert Gesink was a late-hour non-starter, leaving Roglic exposed in May.

This time around Jumbo-Visma has protected Roglic much more effectively, at least thus far. The American pair of Sepp Kuss

Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

and Nielson Powless has impressed along with George Bennett, who is sacrificing his personal ambitions to help Roglic. The experienced hand of Gesink has also been present deep into the key mountain stages.

“The team rode very strong to help me Sunday,” Roglic said of Andorra. “I am very confident in the team here at the Vuelta.”

Jumbo-Visma and Roglic know the attacks are going to come. The climbers feel there will be plenty of opportunities to chip away at his red jersey.

This time around, the team is much more confident that the ending will be very different than in May.

“Primoz was fastest on the climb at Andorra among the GC favorites,” Engels said. “We are now in a very good position.”

Roglic is in control of his destiny. The Vuelta is littered with late-race leadership changes. For this time at least, Jumbo-Visma is hoping the song remains the same. At least until Madrid.