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Vuelta a Espana

Jumbo-Visma cedes Vuelta a España leader’s jersey: ‘Defending for three weeks is too much’

Jumbo-Visma DS: 'We are in the right place right now.'

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BILBAO, Spain (VN) — The Vuelta a España is three weeks long, too long to hold the red leader’s jersey all the way to Madrid even for Jumbo-Visma.

So when Jumbo-Visma studied Wednesday’s lumpy stage 5 across northern Spain, and looked ahead of what still looms in the first full week in Spain, team brass was more than happy to let someone else carry the load.

“We expected a lot of animals to go into the break,” Jumbo-Visma sport director Grischa Niermann said at the team bus. “It was a good break to give the jersey to, we are happy to do so because controlling for three weeks in a row would be hard.”

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Jumbo-Visma was playing hot potato with the leader’s jersey since powering to victory in the team time trial Friday, with four of the team’s eight starters riding in red.

A day after Primož Roglič stormed to victory at Laguardia to win the stage and take 13 seconds in time bonuses over his direct GC rivals, Niermann told the team to let the jersey ride clear.

The script unfolded better than how the team could have hoped.

Marc Soler (UAE Team Emirates) won the stage out of a breakaway, and Rudy Molard (Groupama-FDJ) carved out enough time to move into the red leader’s jersey.

The 32-year-old’s only finished once inside the top-20 in 12 previous grand tour starts, and none of the riders in the break present a clear and present red jersey danger.

“Every day our guys can relax a little bit and other teams can take over it’s good for us,” Niermann said. “It was a good day, and that breakaway would have been pretty hard to pull back. We made the decision, and we knew in advance that it would be OK to give the jersey away to a rider who ‘should’ have it, and that was the case. Congrats to FDJ for their ride.”

Jumbo-Visma DS: ‘We are in the right place right now’

Roglič lost the leader’s jersey but not any time against his direct GC rivals. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Roglič’s stage win Tuesday, however, sent a bolt across the peloton that he’s ready to fight for what would be a record fourth straight red jersey.

The Slovenian returned to racing at this Vuelta without having tested his legs since crashing out of the Tour de France.

So far, it looks like Roglič’s cylinders are firing at winning speed.

“It was not a surprise, but a nice confirmation that he is going well,” Niermann said of Tuesday’s win. “We knew it before, but also for himself, there was a little bit of an unknown on how he was against the other guys. I would say pretty good.”

Roglič rode in with his direct GC rivals, and though he slipped to fifth overall behind riders from the breakaway, the gains carved out Tuesday remain in place.

“We are in the right place right now. There are still two and a half weeks to go, and a lot of things can happen,” Niermann said. “There are some hard stages coming up, and now we are in the place we want to be.

“Also tomorrow is another big day for GC, and then a hard breakaway stage, and two more uphill finishes, it will be hard in these next few days.”

Roglič might be back in red within 24 hours, but even a day’s respite will be welcomed inside the Jumbo-Visma bus.