RINCON DE LA VICTORIA, Spain (VN) — Primož Roglič dodged a bullet Tuesday by escaping from a high-speed crash on a descent with only a few scrapes in a daring attack on the day’s final climb leaving everyone wondering why he attacked at all.
The Vuelta a España race leader’s front wheel slipped out on dusty, slick roads coming down the twisting descent of a second-category climb in the final 25km of the 10th stage after dropping all of his direct GC rivals.
Roglič quickly remounted and did not appear to be seriously injured, but he gave up the 20-seconds or so advantage he had on his desperately chasing rivals.
“Without the crash, it could have been better, eh? It’s too bad,” Roglič said at the line. “Why not, huh? No risk, no glory. It was good. I had a small slide, so it should be fine.”
The big question was — why did Roglič attack at all?
With Roglič firmly in control in a transition stage, the Slovenian took a big risk, and it almost backfired on him.
A large breakaway group of 30 riders was clear up the road to challenge for the stage and the race leader’s jersey, with Michael Storer (DSM) winning the stage, and Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert) taking over the lead and non-threatening rider Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) slotting into second.
Heat and wind seemed to leave the main GC group in a late-race detente when Roglič suddenly bolted from the group on the second-category climb. The unexpected surge left his rivals flat-footed, and everyone desperately chased in his wake.
According to Jumbo-Visma teammate Sam Oomen, Roglič decided to attack midway through the stage, and confirmed that a late-stage attack wasn’t in the team tactic at the start of the day.
“Not this morning, but during the ride, yes, he felt good, so he wanted to try,” said Oomen, who did not realize that Roglič later crashed. “He was also excited himself, and it was a little bit of a surprise move.”
Many wondered why Roglič would take the risk to attack at all.
The two-time defending champion came out of the Vuelta’s first rest day firmly in control of the race, especially with top rival Ineos Grenadiers struggling to stay even to Roglič.
With a time trial and difficult climbing stages looming in the final week, many saw the impromptu attack as an unnecessary risk.
“Attacking on the climb is one thing, but in that crash, he could have broken a collarbone and he could have been out of the race,” ex-pro Sean Kelly said on Eurosport. “With the time trial still at the end of the race and a lot of hard stages to come, why do this and why take the risk? OK, on the climb, but taking that risk on the descent, it’s just too much risk.”
Movistar’s Enric Mas said they knew the descent of the Puerto de Almáchar would be treacherous.
The roads in southern Spain are notorious for the dust, gunk and even olive oil that accumulate during the hot and often rainless summers.
“Yes, it’s true that the attack from Roglič was unexpected,” Mas said. “We knew it was a dangerous descent. We thought if anyone risked something they could slip on a corner, because the asphalt was very, very dangerous. I descended very cautiously and I was careful to be sure not to crash. At the end of the day, we didn’t crash, so we are happy about that.”
In the ensuing chaos, a lead group of seven top GC riders rode in with Roglič, including Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss and Movistar’s Mas and Miguel Ángel López, and Jack Haig (Bahrain Victorious).
There was a small reward for Roglič and the leaders.
Adam Yates and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) were among a group of GC riders crossing the line 37 seconds behind the Roglič group after they were unable to chase back.
“We didn’t see Roglič crash because he was a bit ahead of us,” López said. “We were surprised when he saw him ahead of us because he was just getting back on his bike. We went down the descent with a lot of caution because we knew it would be slippery. The idea was to save the day, and I think we did.”
There was no immediate word on Roglič’s injuries, but he was telling journalists and other riders at the finish line that he only suffered a few minor cuts and scrapes.
But many were wondering at what cost?
Roglič rolled the dice Tuesday when he didn’t have to and was lucky to come away without something more serious.
A similar crash earlier in the Vuelta sent Alejandro Valverde packing home with a broken collarbone.