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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič in class of his own in near-perfect treble

The battle for leftovers began early in a Vuelta book-ended by time trials that set up Roglič for his most comfortable GC win yet.

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SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA, Spain (VN) —  Three weeks of racing, crashes, heat, sorrows and victories ended Sunday the way it started at the Vuelta a España, with Primož Roglič winning a time trial.

The Slovenian capped a near-perfect grand tour with another stage win in Sunday’s 33.7km individual time trial to confirm what everyone already knew — he is the strongest rider in the race.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s crazy,” Roglič said. “Sometimes you win by a big difference, sometimes by a little, but any way of winning is fantastic.”

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Roglič joins Tony Rominger, Roberto Heras, and Alberto Contador to win three editions of the Spanish grand tour, but he’s said, “I’m not focusing on statistics and I’m just focusing on doing my best each day. I’m honored to be in that place with those riders.”

The overall crown is Roglič’s third straight Vuelta victory and confirmed the Jumbo-Visma star yet again as one of the most consistent and successful grand tour riders in the peloton today.

Roglič’s cool demeanor helped him throughout this Vuelta. The team wisely gave up the red jersey to lesser rivals, and when he crashed on a downhill in the second week in a risky attack, Roglič shrugged it off, adding, “sometimes I am dangerous to myself.”

After the crushing disappointment of the 2020 Tour, when he lost yellow on the final time trial, Roglič revealed a deeper character that continues to play out. Instead of wallowing in the loss, Roglič went straight back into racing and promptly won the 2020 Vuelta.

This summer, after crashing out of the Tour, he was able to quickly pivot and won the Olympic gold medal in the time trial before roaring into the Vuelta as the red-hot favorite.

After would-be rivals like Egan Bernal and Richard Carapaz faltered, Roglič was on cruise control. His winning margin of 4:42 is the largest in Vuelta history since Roberto Heras beat Denis Menchov by 4:36 in 2005.

“Primož is super-focused but he doesn’t get nervous about things,” said teammate Sepp Kuss, who finished eighth overall. “Everyone rallies around him because he always comes through. He’s so steady every day.”

The big question now for Roglič is can he ride as seamlessly in the Tour de France, where he will likely face off against compatriot Tadej Pogačar again in the 2022 edition.

The battle for the podium started early

The only real question mark behind Roglič’s Vuelta reign was who was going to share the podium with him, and in what order.

Following Saturday’s dramatic stage that saw the GC table turned upside following the unexpected and controversial departure of Miguel Angel López (Movistar), who started the stage third overall but quit in anger when his podium spot disappeared up the road.

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Movistar teammate Enric Mas managed the drama adroitly and stayed focused on the task at hand, enough at least to secure a podium spot. Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious), who started third following his stunning attack Saturday, did what he had to do.

“We have to be happy with this result,” said Mas, who did not mention López. “We ended with only four riders on the team, and three ended up in the hospital, giving their skin for everyone. We leave with this podium, and we can be proud of that as a team.”

Mas and Haig each scored morale-boosting podiums behind the ever-steady Slovenian, finishing second and third, respectively.

“It’s incredible,” Haig said. “You always dream of arriving on the podium of a grand tour, but I never knew if it would be possible. To be up there on the podium alongside Enric and Primož is just incredible.”

Magnus Cort (EF Education-Nippo), already a winner of three stages during this Vuelta, uncocked a superb ride from the middle of the start sheet. The Dane, who will be among the favorites for the world title in Belgium next month, sat in the hot seat for a long time.

Five Americans leave with solid results

The Vuelta featured five U.S. starters, with Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) leading the way with his first top-10 in a grand tour. Grand tour rookie Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) finished off the race well, riding to third Friday.

Chad Haga (DSM) and Joe Dombrowski (UAE Emirates) both rode well, riding into select breakaways and then helping their respective team leaders. Dombrowski was second in stage 3. Haga capped his Vuelta with a solid fifth in Sunday’s TT.

Kiel Reijnen (Trek-Segafredo) left the Vuelta late due to the lingering after-effects from a crash, but not before chaperoning teammates across the wind-blasted first half of the Vuelta. Lawson Craddock (EF Education-Nippo) seemed to get stronger as the race unfolded, and will carry momentum into the worlds.

Heat a key factor in ‘Vuelta de las catedrales’

The 2021 Vuelta was a hard one, with much of the race contested in the sweltering summer heat.

Soaring temperatures hit the Vuelta in the opening two weeks, and though there was a respite in the north, the thermometer hit the 90s again for Sunday’s time trial.

Jumbo-Visma controlled the key mountain stages, and Ineos Grenadiers could never mount a serious threat to Roglič. Carapaz abandoned and Bernal admitted he was not at his best, but Adam Yates rode into form in the closing week to hit the top-5.

“I have to be happy with this Vuelta even though I knew I would not be my best,” said Bernal, who contracted COVID-19 after winning the Giro d’Italia this spring. “It was important for me to finish the Vuelta, to get through another grand tour. I love racing here and I will come back to try to win in better conditions.”

Also read: Heat taking toll on broiling peloton

Movistar kept the pressure on Roglič, but neither Mas nor López could take any serious time out of him. López won at Gamoniteiru on the Vuelta’s “queen stage,” only to implode two days later.

Bahrain Victorious rebounded nicely from early setbacks from pre-race captain Mikel Landa, with Haig emerging as a legitimate GC threat. The team laid the trap Saturday and moved Haig back within podium range, but by then, Roglič was on cruise control.

In the sprints, Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) returned to the winner’s circle in his inspirational comeback from injury and won the green points jersey despite suffering through the mountains of the final week.

Michael Storer (DSM), a winner of two stages, snatched the best climber’s jersey while Gino Mäder (Bahrain Victorious) took the young rider’s jersey away from Bernal in Saturday’s raid.

Though contested during some health concerns, the Vuelta unfolded without major disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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