Vuelta a Espana

Time bonuses gave Primož Roglič winning cushion in Vuelta a España victory

Richard Carapaz would have been ahead by eight seconds without time bonuses in Vuelta a España.

Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) stood on the top step of the winner’s podium at the Vuelta a España on Sunday thanks in part to finish-line time bonuses.

The 2020 Vuelta was decided by 24 seconds, the official gap between Roglič and second-place Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers). Take away the time bonuses, and Carapaz would have won on real time by eight seconds.

Roglič said the slender margin of victory takes nothing away from his second consecutive Vuelta crown.

“We all have the same chances for those time bonuses,” Roglič said. “If I can take them, I will. When you win, you don’t look at how you do that.”

The 2020 Vuelta awarded 10, 6, and 4-second bonuses for the top-3 of each stage (except time trials), and Roglič played that to his advantage throughout the race.

Roglič won four stages (there was no time bonus for his time trial win at Ézaro), and finished second on three stages, giving him 48 seconds in time bonuses. Carapaz did not win a stage, finished second twice, and third once, awarding him 16 seconds in bonuses. Roglič won 32 seconds more time bonuses, and when the bonuses are stripped out of the final times in Madrid, the difference is eight seconds.

When asked about the over-sized role time bonuses played in this Vuelta, runner-up Carapaz said he’s content with how he finished off the Vuelta.

“I have no regrets,” Carapaz said. “If I didn’t win more time bonuses it’s because I couldn’t, and that’s how it is. I raced as hard as I could.”

The narrow margin of victory and the role the time bonuses played in the final outcome in this Vuelta will be sure to revive the debate over the appropriateness of having them in a grand tour.

Some argue that time bonuses unfairly favor a rider with a strong finishing kick who can dart ahead to snatch away vital seconds, while others say bonuses spice up racing, and give riders and teams extra motivation to animate the race to chase the gains.

According to GCN, the 2020 Vuelta is the first time that bonus seconds have made the winning difference in a grand tour since Giuseppe Saronni beat Roberto Visentini at the 1983 Giro, winning that Giro by 1:07 over Roberto Visentini.

Roglič’s time bonuses were enough to reverse a race-time deficit to Carapaz. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

It’s a bit unfair to say that Roglič’s Vuelta crown was won solely on the back of bonuses because had the bonuses not been in play, riders might have raced in very different ways without them. In Saturday’s final mountain stage, Carapaz was attacking to erase that time gap, and Roglič said he was riding a steadier tempo due to the cushion he had thanks to the bonuses. Both would have raced very differently at La Covatilla and throughout the race if time bonuses had not been part of this Vuelta.

Simply put, the time bonuses were part of the 2020 Vuelta, and everyone knew it. By winning four stages, more than anyone else in this Vuelta, Roglič was the clear benefactor of the finish-line bonuses.

Yet the sometimes-oversized impact of time bonuses was on display in stage 16, a challenging transition stage across Extremadura that shredded the peloton. Roglič pounced out of a reduced finishing group to finish second behind stage winner Magnus Cort (EF Pro Cycling) to claim a six-second time bonus. As Roglič pointed out at the finish line, those six seconds clawed back more than half of the time — 10 seconds — he lost to Carapaz on the summit finish at Alto de l’Angliru.

Roglič deserves credit for winning this Vuelta, and he said he raced each stage as if it were a one-day classic. No Vuelta winner has won four stages in one race since Laurent Jalabert in 1995.

Roglič also joins an elite club of repeat Vuelta winners. Gustaaf Deloor won the first editions in 1935-36, and Julián Berrendero won in 1941-42 after the Vuelta restarted following Spain’s civil war. Tony Rominger (1992-94) and Alex Zülle (1996-97) were repeat winners in the 1990s, and Roberto Heras won three in a row in 2003-05.

Since 2019, Roglič has won or finished on the podium of the four grand tours he’s started. After a career-first grand tour podium of third in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, Roglič also counts victories in the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Vuelta, and second in the 2020 Tour de France.