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Vuelta a Espana

Roglič’s race to lose? Primož Roglič reigns supreme in opening phase of Vuelta a España

Roglič has looked faultless through the opening week while his rivals have faded – but does he have enough of a buffer to last through to the final?

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The GC of the Vuelta a España took a shake Sunday, but one man couldn’t be moved.

Primož Roglič marked every move and batted away the defiant Enric Mas to finish second on stage 9 on the Vuelta a España and take a 28-second lead into Monday’s rest day.

The defending champion held strong under an Ineos Grenadiers onslaught that left its own leaders suffering as top favorites Egan Bernal, Adam Yates, and Miguel Ángel López all lost ground. For Roglič, Sunday’s stage puts a cap on an opening week in which he has reigned supreme as his rivals have slowly unraveled.

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Could the Vuelta now be Roglič’s race to lose?

“Ineos put a hard pace on the long climb and in the end it was quite fast, it was a big explosion. Luckily, I had good legs so I could finish it,” Roglič said after standing atop the GC podium for the sixth time of the race.

“It’s the beginning. Now we have a rest day and we need to stay in one piece with the full team and I’m looking forward to the next stages.”

On paper, Roglič’s 28-second lead over Mas means the race is far from a done deal. However, Roglič has ridden a near-faultless race so far, dominating the TT, roaring away from his rivals on the Cullera hilltop, and barely breaking a sweat on stage 3 and stage 7 summit finishes.

Roglič and Mas punched away from a flurry of attacks on the Velefique summit on Sunday as the pair rode into command on the GC. It felt a foregone conclusion when Roglič accelerated away from Mas in the final 100 meters to secure second on the stage.

“I went with Primož, we know he’s fast and he took some seconds on me, but still I’m really happy,” Mas said after being outkicked by Roglič in the sprint for second behind stage-winner Damiano Caruso.

“We went together, of course, he’s the leader, he didn’t have to pull like me. I went full with him and I’m always happy to be together with him because it means that I’m at the same level.”

For Mas, only losing one second — plus bonus time to Roglič — was as good as a win on a day where Bernal lost over one minute in the race for red and GC threats Yates, López, and Jack Haig all lost 40 seconds.

“I felt good, but I was missing that change of pace, I was going strong but when they accelerated I felt that I could not maintain and they dropped me again,” Bernal said after Ineos Grenadiers unraveled on the Velefique summit.

“Yates tried to help me but at one point, but I told him to make his race the best he could. I have no idea what Ineos’ strategy will be going forward.”

Roglič and Jumbo-Visma will head into the rest day with smiles on their faces. Ineos Grenadiers did all of the work to no avail Sunday, and Jumbo-Visma has gotten through the first week without shouldering much of the workload.

But will Roglič be content with only a 28-second lead?

Roglič has made a habit of gaining big GC advantages early in grand tours before leaking time while suffering through the final week.

The Slovenian survived the trademark slump at last year’s Vuelta, where he had just enough to withstand a final assault from Richard Carapaz to win the race by just 24 seconds. Yet Roglič’s tendency to fade in the final week cost him big-time at both the 2020 Tour de France and the 2019 Giro d’Italia.

Although Roglič has seemingly floated through the first phase of the Vuelta, a fiendishly tough final week and the weight of history pushes back against him.

A backloaded course stacking five mountain stages and a long time trial into the final seven days of racing will leave Roglič little room for error at the 2021 Vuelta. And the relatively straightforward second week of sprint and transition stages won’t offer him much room to grow out his 28-second margin in advance of the fearsome final phase.

Should Roglič have been more ruthless in making every second count in this first week of racing?

Roglič’s red-hot form Sunday and ease in the GC group through the week before suggested he has been leaving a little something in the tank. That might mean Roglič has legs to last three weeks, or that it simply means he fades again but without a buffer to fall back on as the race rolls toward its end at Santiago de Compostela.

The Vuelta sure could be Roglič’s race to lose.

But for now, all he can do is rest up and ready himself for an assault from all sides in the final 12 days of racing.

“We deserve the rest day, it was a hard day,” Roglič said Sunday. “Again it was super hot with some big climbs, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”