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The toughest thing Primož Roglic and Egan Bernal had to deal with in Saturday’s straightforward stage of the Vuelta a España was the searing heat of southeast Spain. The summer sun will be the least of their worries in the massive mountain test that awaits them Sunday.
Roglič, Bernal and the rest of the GC favorites stayed upright and out of trouble in the sunbaked sprint stage Saturday, won by Fabio Jakobsen.
The pan-flat coastal spin will make for a mere leg-stretcher ahead of Sunday’s stage to the Alto de Velefique, where some 4,500 meters of climbing and a special-category summit finish awaits.
“It was again a nice day on the bike. I stayed out of trouble,” Roglič said after retaining his red jersey Saturday.
The Slovenian takes an eight-second GC lead over Felix Großschartner into stage 9, with Movistar duo Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López poised within 30 seconds further back.
Despite happily handing his red jersey to Rein Taaramäe earlier last week, Roglič indicated he will fight for every second in the high mountains of Almeria ahead of the rest day that follows.
“Whatever situation I’m in for the rest day, I’ll go with it,” Roglič said. “It’s true that tomorrow is a big day in the mountains. My guys showed yesterday that they are super-strong. I also have good legs and we’ll definitely fight for the red jersey.”
Roglič and teammate Sepp Kuss, currently eighth overall, will have to keep close tabs on Mas and López on the stage to Velefique. But Ineos Grenadiers will be equally threatening.
Bernal sits 41 seconds back, and Adam Yates is at 1:22. Richard Carapaz is likely out of range at nearly three minutes down but could have an important part to play should Ineos Grenadiers look to work any tactical magic.
“The team did very well and that’s one day less,” Bernal said after coming through stage 8 unscathed.
Bernal has yet to show his cards so far this Vuelta. The Giro d’Italia champ has looked calm in the wheels when the road has tilted skyward, but has not yet flashed any attacking moves, leaving Yates and Carapaz to play offense for the team.
The Colombian climbing ace played down his chances for Sunday’s stage despite the monster parcours playing into his climbing capabilities.
“For tomorrow in Velefique, it depends on how the legs are, we will see how we go tomorrow,” he said. “I will try not to lose too much time for the general classification.”
Expect the GC to look altogether different Sunday night. Searing temperatures, four huge climbs and a scramble for seconds ahead of the rest day could cause the first major shakeup in the race for the Maillot Rojo.