Primož Roglič may have looked on the ropes last weekend, but the defending Vuelta a España champion emerged on top Wednesday after a mano-a-mano brawl atop the steep climb of the Alto del Moncalvillo.
The Slovenian punched clear in the final kilometer of the relentlessly steep slopes of the Cantabrian climb after exchanging a wave of attacks with red jersey rival Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). After a series of accelerations, Roglič detached the Ecuadorian to beat him to the line by 13 seconds, and with a time bonus pushing him up to second overall, just 13 seconds back of the Ineos Grenadiers captain.
Like many in the peloton, Roglič didn’t know the Moncalvillo climb, which was making its Vuelta debut Wednesday. That didn’t stop him launching a rocketing move to distance Carapaz, leaving the Ineos Grenadiers leader trailing behind.
“I didn’t know it [the climb],” Roglič said. “I just saw on the profile it was a hard climb. But it’s a good opportunity – you have to go if you want to win. So, it’s more going with a feeling than saying that I will go.”
Having suffered a disastrous day in the rainsoaked Pyrénées on stage 6 Sunday, and being left one man down after teammate Tom Dumoulin’s abandoned Wednesday morning before the start of the stage, the Slovenian was in need of a mojo-boost going into two major mountain stages this weekend. Roglič’s stage 8 victory and 17-second gain after accounting for time bonuses was well-timed and proved his relentlessness was still as fierce as ever.
“I always like to win,” he said. “If there is a small opportunity then definitely I will take it. It was super hard. Anyway, today, luckily I had the legs and I’m happy to take the win.”
After initial moves by GC threat Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) and dark horse Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana), it was Roglič and Carapaz who emerged at the front of the fray on the Cantabrian summit finish, proving their pre-race billing as favorites for the red jersey.
Roglič’s gain Wednesday goes some way to reversing the 43 seconds he lost to Carapaz on the stage to Formigal, a performance his American wingman Sepp Kuss dismissed as “a bit of an anomaly” after Wednesday’s stage. For Carapaz, Roglič is still strong as ever.
“It was amazing, to be there mano-a-mano, it was a nice duel with him,” Carapaz said after the stage. “We see Roglič was very strong, and the race is still very open. I tried and the stage was still there. Roglič went too hard for me, and I tried to defend what I could.”
With only 13 seconds now separating Roglič and Carapaz, and with both riders one teammate down after the abandon of both Dumoulin and Ineos Grenadiers’ domestique Michał Gołaś at the start of the day, the Vuelta goes back to nearly all-square between the two teams. Behind them, outside contenders Martin and Carthy remain within 44-seconds of the race lead.
While it could swing in any direction in the extra-tough summit finishes this weekend, Roglič’s stage win Wednesday and prowess against the clock looking ahead to stage 13’s long time trial tips the momentum back toward the Slovenian ahead of a key block of racing.