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Vuelta a Espana

Primož Roglič still far from third Vuelta a España title as race nears endgame

Roglič faces race against time and growing pressure as third red jersey remains far from his reach.

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Primož Roglič has a habit of making life hard for himself. And winning his third red jersey is looking far from straightforward as the Vuelta a España heads into its third week.

After starting the Vuelta as red-hot favorite and bossing the opening half of the race, Roglič suddenly seems to be cutting it fine ahead of a brutal final phase in the Asturias mountains.

Roglič twice left the door open to opportunistic attacks from GC rivals in this weekend’s mountain stages and his impenetrable aura seems to have the smallest of cracks. With Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers banging at the door and Odd Christian Eiking unexpectedly defiant, Roglič needs to move fast in order to book himself in for a third Vuelta victory.

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Roglič remains the leader in the clubhouse, boasting a 35-second gap over Enric Mas. But the more pressing point is that the double defending champ is still 1:36 behind an ice-cool Eiking.

“I’ve spent multiple days in the red jersey and everybody is very motivated,” Eiking said Sunday. “I’m taking this role very seriously.”

Eiking has already amassed six days in the red jersey, a few more than many may have thought possible when he first pulled it on.

The Norweigan acknowledged Sunday that he may not have many more days left to ride at the top of GC, but a leader’s jersey can do special things – and it’s so far given Eiking and his team the cajones to scrap for every centimeter of space.

Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert is a newcomer to the grand tour game, but the Belgian outfit has more than risen to the occasion. Flouro-and-white jerseys packed the front of the peloton this weekend as the minnows of the WorldTour flexed as though it were Ineos Grenadiers or Jumbo-Visma.

“We are motivated and we are doing our best,” Eiking’s teammate Jan Hirt said Sunday. “It gives a lot of motivation to have the red jersey and that gives us extra power.”

Movistar, Ineos Grenadiers squeeze pressure

A pair of huge summit finishes this week may mark the end to Eiking’s fairytale run in the red jersey, but it’s far from guaranteed. However, the more realistic threat to Roglič’s hopes for a third red jersey come from behind.

Movistar is poised to win its home grand tour for the first time since 2016.

Lead duo Mas and Miguel Ángel López are threatening and confident. Lopez kicked clear to gain four seconds back on Roglič in the finale of Saturday’s stage, and Mas has comfortably latched to the Slovenian’s wheel every time the road has reared uphill.

Also read: Mas riding high in standout Vuelta campaign

Ineos Grenadiers’ leaders Egan Bernal and Adam Yates are further out of the frame but aren’t giving up just yet. Yates attacked twice Sunday and snatched 15 seconds on GC, marking the second time Roglič has allowed his rivals the types of opening that would typically be slammed shut.

The gaps were minor, but Ineos Grenadiers and Movistar clearly aren’t going to stop racing until the race hits Santiago di Compostela next weekend.

“We are going to go on the attack, for sure,” Mas said on the rest day Monday. “We want to win. I don’t know if we will do it with a heroic attack from 80km, but it’s certain we’re going to try.”

Roglič running out of time?

The Vuelta will take on an altogether fiercer complexion after the rest day Monday.

Two special category summit finishes Wednesday and Thursday, and a shark-tooth shaped penultimate stage Saturday combine to make one of the toughest final weeks of the Vuelta in memory.

Although Jumbo-Visma was happy to twice give away the red jersey in the opening weeks, Roglič may wish to be closer to it than he is right now.

The final stage time trial leaves Roglič with an ace to play, with Yates forecasting that the Olympic champion could gain as much as two minutes on the GC pack in the 34km test. Roglič may be the de facto leader of the clubhouse, but it will take the coolest of heads to leave it to the very final day to guarantee victory.

A history of final-week fades in form looms large over Roglič, as does the question of why the typically ruthless Slovenian left López and Yates even a scrap of space this weekend.

Either Roglič is brimming with confidence and saving bullets, or he’s simply running out of gas.

One week ago, the Vuelta was Roglič’s to lose. It now seems a third red jersey is far from guaranteed.

Race starts afresh in Asturias

There’s a sense that the ball has shifted from being squarely in Roglič’s court to being suspended in mid-air after this weekend’s mountain stages. Mas is riding a wave of morale, Ineos Grenadiers is still – just about – in range, and Jack Haig is yet to put a foot wrong and has a solid time trial to rely on.

But first things first, Roglič, Mas, Haig, and the rest need to unseat Eiking.

“If I can keep the jersey for much longer, it will be amazing,” Eiking said Sunday.

“I don’t think with names like Primož Roglič and all the other big names, grand tour podium finishers and such, that it’s possible. But you never know.”

Don’t switch your sets just yet. The Vuelta is just getting started.