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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Jumbo-Visma hitting repeat button, but hoping for different ending

Primož Roglič and Tom Dumoulin lead at Vuelta a España, with Sepp Kuss as wingman.

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Jumbo-Visma heads to the Vuelta a España hoping to hit the repeat button from its dominant 2020 season, but with a slightly different ending than the Tour de France.

Tom Dumoulin and defending Vuelta champion Primož Roglič are back together to headline a strong Jumb0-Visma squad just weeks after watching the yellow jersey slip away in the final time trial at the Tour to arch-rival Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates).

Both start as co-leaders, and both vow to back whoever emerges as the strongest.

“It will be the same as the Tour de France,” Roglic said. “We come here with a strong team, with me and Tom as leaders. We will see who is getting better and for whom we will work for.”

That strategy worked like a charm during the Tour, at least until the penultimate stage with the individual time trial. Pogaçar uncorked the ride of his life, while Roglič faltered. Everyone insists they’ve put the disappointment of the Tour behind them, and arrive at the Vuelta motivated and determined to race to win again.

“Of course, we were all very disappointed we didn’t take the yellow jersey to Paris,” Dumoulin said. “It looked very good until the time trial. That’s racing. That day, Pogačar was stronger and we can only accept that. This Vuelta, it’s a new race and a new opportunity.”

Dumoulin and Roglič arrive at the Vuelta surrounded by a very strong team. George Bennett, Robert Gesink, and Sepp Kuss are all back from the Tour squad. Lennard Hofstede, Paul Martens, and Jonas Vingegaard round out the roster.

Speaking to VeloNews, Kuss said the route favors either of the team’s co-captains.

“It’s hard right from the beginning, so that’s good for Primož,” Kuss said. “And Tom was getting stronger as the Tour went on, so that time trial here at the end of the second week will favor him. We will find out quickly in this Vuelta who is strong.”

The Vuelta route is front-loaded with climbs, which could see some important GC selection in the opening few stages. With the Col du Tourmalet waiting at the end of the first week, and three hard stages in northern Spain at the end of the second week, the Vuelta could well be decided long before the race hits Madrid on November 8.

“The Vuelta route is a little bit different than the Tour. The third week seems a bit easier,” Roglič said. “We can figure it out in the first few days to see how good we are. It’s immediately difficult in the first three stages. I like it. It will be racing all the time.”

Last year, Roglič won the Vuelta in domineering fashion, with compatriot Pogačar impressing in his grand tour debut to win three stages and finish third overall. A year later, and Roglič enters the Vuelta as a confident and determined GC captain.

A few things could ruin the script for Jumbo-Visma. First, a worsening health situation in Spain means there is no guarantee the race will make it to Madrid. Last week, the team pulled its riders out of the Giro d’Italia due to a COVID positive involving Steven Kruijswijk.

And second, racing well into November across the mountains of northern Spain is sure to throw up some unexpected surprises.

And Dumoulin said no one really knows what to expect in this late-season grand tour.

“There was no time to do a real grand tour preparation. There were no altitude camps, no warm-up races,” Dumoulin said. “We went to straight to the worlds and then the classics. It’s not ideal, but it’s the same for everyone. We have to make the most out of it.”

Jumbo-Visma is hoping for a repeat of the 2019 Vuelta — not of what happened last month in France. They have to riders and team for this.