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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España commentary: How will Primož Roglič’s abandon impact the GC contest?

The loss of Roglič from the race will put a dent in the GC battle but there are still plenty of twists in the tale to be had before Madrid.

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Tuesday’s stage 16 of the Vuelta a España was panning out to be a relatively simple day out for the peloton, but three short kilometers saw the race turned on its head.

“Bizarre,” was how Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels described the finale.

First came Primož Roglič’s attack, and next came Remco Evenepoel’s puncture just a few meters later. Then, when we all thought the day was settled, Roglič was catapulted from his bike with about 150 meters to the finish line after it appeared he touched handlebars with Fred Wright.

It was the kind of frenetic and chaotic period of racing that can so often define a grand tour. As the dust settled, it became clear that Roglič had gained eight seconds on Evenepoel, but at what cost?

Roglič crossed the line dazed and bloodied and it was clear that it was no minor scrape for the Slovenian. He is known for battling through the pain but continuing this year’s Vuelta a España proved a stretch too far.

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Jumbo-Visma has not detailed the exact extent of Roglič’s injury, but said on Wednesday morning that he will not continue on in the race.

Though he would not have wanted to see his rival downed in such a way, the departure of Roglič is a boost to Evenepoel’s overall chances. However, it is a big blow to the excitement of the GC battle in the remaining days of this year’s Vuelta.

After Evenepoel’s sheer dominance in the opening half of the race, it seemed as though the Belgian was cruising towards the overall win, but Roglič’s stinging attacks on stage 14 showed the first fissures in Evenepoel’s façade.

The race might still be on, after all. The other GC contenders sensed blood in the water and went out to claw more time back from what looked to be an ailing Evenepoel. The times gaps closed down but Evenepoel still had 1:34 on Roglič and 2:01 on Enric Mas in the overall classification. It was going to need a big effort to cut that all the way down before the final stage in Madrid.

Roglič had nothing to lose going into this final week due to the three Vuelta a España wins already under his belt. At last year’s Vuelta, when he crashed while attacking in the red jersey, Roglič famously said “no risk, no glory” and that is an adage that he’s raced by since he turned professional.

Much like Alberto Contador during his career, Roglič is a rider that would rather risk it all for the win than play it safe and ride home for a second place. There was little doubt that he would throw everything at Evenepoel in the final stages, no matter how big or small the climb. His fateful attack on stage 16 showed that.

Losing Roglič means losing one of the major instigators at the front of the race and it puts more pressure on those behind to force the attacks. The remaining top GC contenders have more to lose than the Slovenian did.

Of the new top 10, only Jai Hindley has won a grand tour previously after claiming the Giro d’Italia title earlier this season. Meanwhile, Mas and Miguel Ángel López are the only others that have previously stepped onto a podium at a three-week race.

For those who have never been there before, earning a top placing or making it onto the podium will be a win in itself. Will they be willing to risk a massive time loss to gain the necessary time to put the red jersey in trouble?

Mas is definitely the biggest threat. That’s not just because of his proximity to Evenepoel in the overall classification, but his potential mentality coming into it. The 27-year-old has twice finished runner-up at the Vuelta a España and will so desperately want to make that final step to the center of the rostrum.

The Spaniard has shown already that he’s willing to push Evenepoel and others around him with his stinging attack on stage 15 netting him a 36-second time gain, plus some bonus seconds, on the Belgian. He will need to keep that momentum up going into the final big mountain stages if he wants to overhaul Evenepoel before the finish.

One fly in the ointment of a Mas-ive attack is the ever-lingering specter of the relegation battle. Movistar is tightly locked into it and there may come a time when Mas’ sport directors ask him to hold tight and play it safe to ensure a good haul of points. Let’s hope that time doesn’t come.

López is another danger man and one that could help keep the fight alive in the GC battle through the final stages. Though the Colombian lost a significant amount of time in the early part of the race and now sits in fifth at 5:24, he’s been very active recently and his attacks could draw out those in the middle of the top-10 contest.

While Evenepoel has a very comfortable cushion on those in third place and down, an ignition of this mid-pack battle of the favorites could force an error from the Belgian. Even if it doesn’t, the battle for that final podium spot should be fun to watch with just 35 seconds separating third through fifth.

Losing Roglič from the race is a big blow for everyone, and shores up Evenepoel’s chances of overall victory. But there are still plenty of potential twists in the tale between now and Madrid.