After a Tour de France wrecked by multiple big crashes in the early stages, Roglič came into the Vuelta hoping for a smooth passage through the nervous opening days. In a week where crosswinds were predicted, it was a task easier said than done for the Jumbo-Visma leader.
Since briefly putting his head above the parapet to win the opening time trial and spending two days in red before passing it onto Rein Taaramäe, Roglič has had a pretty low profile.
The crosswinds have not yet materialized but the expectation of them has made for some nervous racing. Roglič just avoided the major pile-up on stage 5, which felled Taaramäe. The Slovenian placed himself on the front of the peloton about 10 seconds before Mads Würtz Schmit came down, sparking a chain reaction that caught up almost the entire peloton.
“The wind blew in such a way that teams could always come to the front. It was more of a chaos than really racing in echelons,” Roglič’s teammate Nathan Van Hooydonck said following the stage.
“It’s good that Primoz crossed the finish line unscathed and without losing any time. That makes it a good day for us. These are really stressful days, especially for me as a domestique. You know that on days like this you are responsible for your leader. We did well as a team.”
With Roglič keen to avoid burdening his team with the responsibility of the red jersey until the GC battle really lights up, he would have been happy to see Kenny Elissonde move into the race lead following Taaramäe’s misfortune.
As the Vuelta a España approaches the mountains for the second time during this opening week, Roglič could hardly be in a better place. He now sits in second place just five seconds behind Elissonde, whose team will be forced into controlling the bunch.
Thursday’s hilltop finish could see Roglič move back into red, though he’d be happy to see Elissonde take another day in the maillot rojo if possible.
The red jersey battle
Stage 6 pits the riders against a fast terrain that begins with a lengthy downhill section before a flat run into the final kilometers. The last 2km pitch uphill with a 184m elevation gain in the sprint towards the line.
While Elissonde has the capabilities to stick with Roglič on a climb such as this, the Slovenian is not going to wait around if he can sniff an opportunity at gaining some bonus seconds on his key rivals. If the last two years have taught Roglič anything, it is that every second counts in bike racing.
The finale could still end up with sprinters like Michael Matthews and Fabio Jakobsen duking it out for stage honors, but Roglič has the turn of speed to grab some bonus seconds on the line. With four seconds available for third and splits being called after one second — rather than the three allowed for a flat finish — the day is well set up for Roglič to take back red.
“It’s always a privilege to have the red jersey. I think that everybody is fighting for it, so I’m not really thinking about it but trying to focus on the challenges that are coming today,” Roglic said when asked if he had concerned about taking the red jersey back Thursday.
There is still plenty to play for with the toughest part of the Vuelta still to come, but Roglič has played it perfectly so far as he aims to take his third GC win in a row.
Behind Roglič, some of the pre-race favorites have not faired so well in avoiding trouble and all gave away seconds in the opening time trial.
Egan Bernal has so far emerged as the top dog at Ineos Grenadiers as his teammates Adam Yates and Richard Carapaz both lost time through being caught up in crashes and suffering an off day respectively. Carapaz was also handed a penalty for taking a feed on the final climb of stage 3.
Hugh Carthy gave away some extra time after he too struggled on Picón Blanco. Meanwhile, Romain Bardet’s GC battle is over after he lost more than 12 minutes after somersaulting off his bike in the stage 5 crash.
Mikel Landa has maintained a fairly anonymous presence so far, but he has plenty of time to make up after the opening time trial. Like Roglič, he has been burned by an early GT crash and he just wants to get to the mountains without any issues.
Movistar is currently the best positioned to take on Roglič at this point, with the three leaders sitting in fourth, fifth, and sixth overall. There was a brief scare when some of the riders, including Miguel Ángel López, were caught up in the stage 5 pile-up but they came through relatively unscathed.
“I don’t know how we just went down in the middle of that pile-up. In our case, we were lucky enough to be able to brake a lot, and even if some of us were dropped and had to make an extra effort to close the gap, things were taken a bit easier at the front and we were able to join back and finish safely,” Movistar’s Imanol Erviti said.
“In La Vuelta, every single day is an exam for your focus; all routes have some tricks. This was a stage where things like this could happen. It will be quite a different finish tomorrow, yet the approach to the last climb is also difficult, with the wind, trying to position yourself well – it will be another tense one. We did well at Picón Blanco, and I hope we can do well in this Vuelta and enjoy it.”