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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič, Sepp Kuss crush classification rivals on the Covadonga

Roglič takes huge 2:22 lead over Enric Mas as Jumbo-Visma dominates the first of two back-to-back mountain stages at the Vuelta.

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Primož Roglič and Sepp Kuss delivered a double-headed Jumbo-Visma hammerblow in stage 17 of the Vuelta a España.

Roglič blasted a defiant Egan Bernal from his wheel Wednesday and dented the hopes of his GC rivals with a storming solo victory that returned him to the red jersey. And just to rub salt in the wound, Jumbo-Visma wingman Sepp Kuss outsprinted his leader’s rivals to score a standout second-place, nabbing a handful of vital bonus seconds in the process.

“In cycling there’s always risk, a lot can happen, but it went well today, I enjoyed it,” Roglič said with an understated laugh after claiming victory atop the Covadonga. “It’s a super nice day for me and the whole team.”

https://twitter.com/JumboVismaRoad/status/1433095548584841227

Jumbo-Visma came out very big winners of a day that saw Bernal try but fail and Movistar pair Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López leave it too late. With overnight GC leaders Odd Christian Eiking and Guillaume Martin finally crumbling, Roglič rode into a huge 2:22 GC lead in a display of crushing personal and team confidence.

Roglič marked Bernal’s long-range move at 60-kilometers to go and wasn’t afraid to work with the Giro d’Italia winner through to the final. He went on to secure his third stage of the race not with a trademark summit sprint but a seven-kilometer solo ride of swaggering self-belief.

“I just went with him. It’s a race, huh?” Roglič said when asked why he followed the Colombian. “I didn’t think about it, I just went with him … It was still a hard climb in the end, but in the end, I was going good.

“It was a real show, it was real racing. I tried to ride the climb as fast as possible, and Egan couldn’t follow any more, so I just went alone.”

Kuss suggested after the stage that Roglič wanted to stamp his authority on the race after a weekend of shadowboxing in the GC pack.

“It’s a brave move, to go that far out, but I could tell Primož really wanted to do something today,” Kuss said. “He did it in an even more impressive way.”

The confidence in the team bus must have been catching. Kuss put in another standout ride as Roglič’s foil, shutting down Movistar’s moves before winning the sprint for second on the Vuelta’s own Alpe d’Huez.

“It’s a dream to finish second in a climb like Covadonga so legendary, and with a winner worthy in Primož, and Bernal as a champion as well,” Kuss told reporters at the finish line.

Roglič’s mammoth GC lead gives him a lot of padding heading into the final four stages of the race, and his huge TT motor should book him in for further late-race gains.

But Roglič won’t be writing his victory speech just yet. An equally tough mountain stage to the gruesome Altu d’El Gamoniteiru on Thursday will crack open any glimmers of fatigue from a ride deep into the red zone on the Covadonga, and the arduous Ardennes-style ride to Herville on Saturday makes for prime ambush territory.

Does nearly two-and-a-half minutes buy Roglič enough breathing space to allow for late-race difficulties? As Roglič knows only too well, the race ain’t over ’til it’s over.

“You never know, it’s never big enough,” he said. “It’s nice with the advantage, no matter what, but tomorrow is the queen stage. We’ll see if it will be enough after tomorrow.”

Roglič hasn’t won the race just yet, but he and Kuss have made it a whole lot harder for their rivals.