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Nearly five months ago, Primož Roglič started his season with a victory at the Slovenian road championships.
Save for a potentially spirit-crushing turnaround at the Tour de France, the Jumbo-Visma captain has kept his foot on the accelerator all the way through the season – right until the moment he crossed the line atop the Alto de la Covatilla at the Vuelta a España on Saturday.
Roglič bent but did not break on the final haul of this year’s Vuelta, limiting the damage done to his 45-second GC lead as archrival Richard Carapaz romped up the road with four kilometers to go. Like his mind-bending red and yellow race outfit, Roglič’s last-ditch time trial to the Covatilla summit wasn’t the prettiest way to defend a grand tour title, but it worked.
“When you win, you don’t look at how you do that, so I’m just super happy that I made it,” Roglič said Saturday.
Carapaz managed to halve his deficit on Roglič with his late assault, but it wasn’t enough to snatch the red jersey from Roglič’s back. Though there were moments when Roglič looked to be cracking altogether, the steely Slovenian retained his composure to limit his losses.
“I never had a doubt I would win – it’s never finished until you cross the finish line,” he said. “I just had to focus on myself and do my thing at the end, luckily it was enough.”
Roglič crossed the line and punched the air in relieved elation having kept Carapaz in check, finishing the day with a lead of 24 seconds. Like his unbowing acceptance of Carapaz’s Covatilla attack, Roglič’s Vuelta victory as a whole is a testament to a fearsome ruthlessness he’s displayed all season.
The Slovenian’s 24-second advantage was made up entirely of bonus seconds, a repeat of his tactic at the Tour of relentlessly hunting for every gain available to him. Only the day before Saturday’s decisive stage in Spain, Roglič had sprinted to an unexpected second-place at Ciudad Rodrigo, netting a morale-boosting clutch of bonus seconds over Carapaz.
“We all have the same chance for those bonus seconds. Everyone can do it,” Roglič said Saturday. “If I can take it, I will take it.”
Like his consistent harvesting of bonuses and four stage wins in Spain, Roglič steamrollered his way through the restarted 2020 season. The Slovenian started the summer calendar on a tear, dominating the Tour de l’Ain and looking a safe bet for the Critérium du Dauphiné before abandoning ahead of the final stage after a crash the day before. Still sporting bandages protecting wounds sustained at the Dauphiné, Roglič plowed through the Tour de France on the tail of his unstoppable Jumbo-Visma train, picking up a stage win and three second-places on the way.
The Roglič 2020 roadshow was rolling smoothly, until of course, it wasn’t. Young countryman Tadej Pogačar pulled the handbrake to snatch the yellow jersey from under his nose in a shock turnaround that some riders would struggle to bounce back from.
It took Roglič just two weeks to rebound.
After coming close at the world championships, he scored his first-ever monument at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Rather than sitting around “crying” about his Tour turnaround, Roglič reapplied the accelerator all the way through his red jersey defense.
“I’m a racer, every ride I do I want to win. I just moved on,” Roglič said Saturday of his traumatic Tour experience.
“I had to accept it, and I did. I was second which is a beautiful achievement, and I had quite some obstacles to actually get to the Tour, and I made it. And we did a beautiful Tour with the whole team. I wasn’t even dreaming to ride so well with the team during those three weeks.”
Punching to victory on the Vuelta’s opening stage set the scene for the rest of the race to come. Robo-Roglič was back and ruthless as ever.
“Coming here was quite different to the Tour,” said Roglič. “I’d won a monument at Liège, and then I was here trying to win a three-week Vuelta. I started every day as if this was a classic, every stage is a day by itself, and today – or actually tomorrow – we get to the finish. It’s beautiful.”
Roglič’s 2020 season will always carry the albatross of the Planche des Belles Filles time trial attached to it.
However, a monument win, second place at the Tour, and a Vuelta victory mark Roglič as the stage-racer to beat and perhaps the most unrelenting rider in the world right now – both mentally and physically.