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Vuelta a Espana

Vuelta a España: Primož Roglič takes big step toward third GC win but remains tentative

With the memory of losing last year's Tour de France on the final day, Primož Roglič goes into the final stages of the Vuelta with caution despite extending his GC lead.

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Primož Roglič has taken a huge step towards securing his third consecutive Vuelta a España.

The race leader gave away just 14 seconds in a late attack from Miguel Ángel López, but he put time into everyone else and increased his GC lead, giving him a 2:30 advantage overall with the toughest mountains dealt with.

As the Vuelta moved into its second rest day earlier this week, there was talk about Roglič looking weaker and the potential for his usual third-week slide. Roglič has shown nothing of the sort during the Vuelta’s sternest tests, taking an emphatic win Wednesday and consolidating his position at the top of the standings Thursday.

Also read: Miguel Ángel López tops on ‘queen stage’

He was feeling the strain of his long-range move when he didn’t follow López — despite his team stating he’d like to go for the stage win — but he still looked more than comfortable as he paced the chasing group of favorites through the final kilometers before distancing them on the ride to the line.

“The first part of the climb was just steady steep, so it wasn’t really my favorite. It was a big climb and when we came to the top, no matter how you are, you are happy,” Roglič said. “The plan today was to survive. It felt like a queen stage, it was hard, and I also felt a bit the effort from yesterday. It was really hard from the first climb all the way to the steep finish.

“You cannot have everything and for me yesterday was a big day and we made a big difference in the GC. Today, it was the most important to go through with the best guys and we succeeded with that. For sure Superman [López] was strong today and he deserved it. Movistar was smart [waiting until the final climb], yesterday was not smart. It was super hard to come to the finish. I think everybody is feeling a bit tired,” Roglič added.

The ride was muted, particularly after the all-out effort of Wednesday, but it was also dramatically different from last year as Roglič scrabbled to salvage his place at the top of the overall standings.

Despite holding the race lead, Jumbo-Visma had the benefit of many other teams setting the pace — among them Bahrain-Victorious, UAE-Team Emirates, and Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux — as they sought to hit out for their own ambitions.

It was a relatively solid day for the whole team, even if sport director Addy Engels was left smarting at the fact they’d not been able to keep López at bay.

“From the bottom of the final climb there was good support for Primož and on the climb, from the moment the attacks started, there was still Sepp up there. On the steep climbs like this, it’s really a man-to-man battle but a really good day for us, for sure,” Engels said.

“I think today on this climb the strongest guy wins, for sure. [López] is still [in] a podium [position] in the GC so if you don’t have to let him go then you don’t let him go but I think for sure the final part, López had stronger legs. Primož tried to bridge as well, first Sepp tried to keep him close, but I think he went too fast. Of course, the gap in the GC is ok but if you can then it’s not the moment to give away seconds to the closest rivals.”

What could go wrong?

With just three stages remaining and the worst of the mountain tests done and dusted, the coming days should be something of a victory lap for Roglič. He has a substantial lead and he’s looked calm and comfortable back in red once again.

What could go wrong for him? Well, just about anything.

Not to be overly dramatic, but if Roglič has learned anything in the last 12 months or so it is that a race isn’t done until you cross the last finish line. The dramatic overhaul of what looked like a significant gap by Tadej Pogačar in the Tour de France’s final TT will live long in the memory for the Jumbo-Visma rider.

Even with a clear lead, Roglič won’t be comfortable in the red jersey until Sunday.

“Looking to the climbs, there [are] not so [many] steep climbs left. From that point, it’s definitely nice to have it the way it is. There are still some days to come, and from my experience, it is not finished until it is really finished,” Roglič said.

“In all kinds of things, there are always some stupid things that can happen, so we need to stay safe and survive.”

Friday and Saturday’s stages look easy enough for the GC men, but the parcours is still difficult and a mechanical, a crash, or an explosive day of racing could throw the cat among the pigeons.

The Vuelta has previous for the race flipping on a knife-edge Remember that stage to Formigal in 2016 when Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana caught Chris Froome on the hop with an early attack? Or Contador’s all-out ride to Fuente Dé in 2012 to steal the red jersey from Joaquim Rodríguez.

There is still potential for an upset to happen if one or two teams team can mount a serious challenge.

In the midst of that, Roglič needs to stay planted on his bike. Who can forget the way in which he lost Paris-Nice earlier this year?

It ain’t over until it’s over.