Roglič delivers on Jumbo-Visma’s hard work
Jumbo-Visma have been careful to preserve as much energy as possible over the past week and a half of the Vuelta a España, going so far as to intentionally give the red jersey away twice rather than have to defend it.
So it was perhaps a bit of a surprise to see them riding at the front of the peloton for so much of stage 11, especially considering that they’d allowed Odd Christian Eiking to take the red jersey the previous day, presumably with the intention of passing off responsibility to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux.
Their work at the front helped ensure today’s break never got much of an advantage, and when Steven Kruijswijk moved to the front in order to shut down an attack from David de la Cruz (UAE Emirates) on the penultimate climb, it was clear they meant business.
Putting Primož Roglič in a position to win the stage was their intention, and they were rewarded for their efforts when the Slovenian out-sprinted everyone to deliver what was his second victory of the race and seventh at the Vuelta of his career.
It was hardly a surprising outcome given how often Roglič has won on such steep finishes in the past, but it was still both an important and revealing one, as it dispelled any fears that he might have been hurt from his crash on day 10.
As well as the stage win, he also got a small gap at the line to add to the bonus seconds earned, meaning he extends his lead over nearest rival Enric Mas (Movistar) to 35 seconds. Roglič’s already firm grip on this Vuelta has become even firmer.
Mas and Roglič’s friendly rivalry
Now over halfway through the race, the GC hierarchy has been firmly established, with Enric Mas (Movistar) emerging as Primož Roglič’s main contender in the fight for the red jersey.
Stage 11 was the first stage in which the pair really competed as rivals. Whereas on stage nine they rode as allies, working together in order to gain as much time as possible over the other GC rivals they’d dropped, here they eyed each other up with the intention of landing a blow on the other.
Mas made a few probing attacks on the final climb, but could not go clear and was outsprinted at the line. That shouldn’t feel like too much of a loss for Mas though, given Roglič’s supremacy on finishes like.
Intriguingly, they also appeared to exchange words on the climb, once they’d slowed down after Mas failed to distance Roglič. Their friendly embrace at the finish suggests those words can’t have been especially barbed, but what is certain is that each is aware that the other is his main rival. There should be some fascinating battles between them to come.
History almost repeats itself for Cort
The stage today bore a striking resemblance to the stage last week at Alto de Cullera, won by Magus Cort (EF Education-Nippo). Both ended with short, steep climbs to the finish line; both times the breakaway was kept in check by the peloton; and on both occasions Magnus Cort was the last survivor, with a slender lead
But whereas Cort managed to pull off an upset last time by just about holding off a charging Primož Roglič to take victory, this time the Slovenian caught him a few hundred meters before the line, denying the Dane of what would have been a spectacular second stage win.
It was nevertheless another brilliant ride from Cort. The break was given virtually no chance by the peloton, and every other rider involved was caught on the penultimate climb of the day, yet still Cort battled on to hold an advantage of 27 seconds by the top.
A committed peloton prevented him from increasing that advantage on the descent to the bottom of the final climb, but he still looked strong on its early slopes, retaining hope that he could pull off what would have been an even more unlikely victory than his previous one.
The effort he made became apparent after he was finally caught, when he almost came to a standstill, and started weaving side by side to the line, no longer able to take the steep gradients. He might have been unsuccessful, but it was another fearsome showing, and anyone hoping to win upcoming stages in this race will be wary about letting him get into another break.
Eiking holds on to red
We don’t really know what to expect from Odd Christian Eiking now he is in the red jersey. Despite having ridden three Grand Tours in the past, the 26-year-old Norwegian is still something of an unknown quantity, having never before been in anything like the position he now finds himself in.
On the steep penultimate climb, it looked like his time in red might already be about to come to an end, when he drifted right to the back of the group, with just two riders behind him in what was still a sizeable group of favourites.
But he managed to hang on, and looked much better on the final climb, where he finished tenth at the line, conceding just eleven seconds (minus bonifications) to Roglič.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) might have fancied his chances of taking the 58 seconds he required in order to take the red jersey on the previous climb, but Eiking ultimately finished once place ahead of him.
There will be much sterner tests to come, especially in the final week, where the likes of Roglič, Mas and Miguel Ángel López (Movistar) will surely retake control of the race. But this stage was one of the biggest tests of the second week, and having survived it, Eiking can expect to stay in red until at least the weekend — and maybe even into the next rest day at the start of next week.
Philipsen abandonment clears way for Jakobsen to win green
Although there were no major crashes today, there were multiple abandons, with young Brit Simon Carr (EF Education-Nippo) pulling out during the stage, and Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) and Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) both failing to make the start-line.
Philipsen had been having a terrific Vuelta a España, winning two sprint stages in the first week and battling it out with Fabio Jakobsen (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) for the points jersey. But having come down with what he described as ‘mild fever symptoms,’ the decision was made for him to pull out so as not to jeopardise his health for the rest of the season.
His withdrawal clears the path for Fabio Jakobsen to both hold onto the green jersey and chase more stage wins. At just sixteen points adrift, Philipsen had been the only rider anywhere near him in the points classification; now, Roglič has become his nearest rival, and he’s 79 points behind, with no apparent intention of targeting the jersey.
Jakobsen therefore needs to do little more than just finish the race to win the jersey, and is also now the hot favourite to win the few remaining sprint stages, starting with Friday’s finish at Villanueva de la Serena.
Victory there would see him better the two-stage haul he managed at his only previous Grand Tour appearance two years ago, while a points classification victory would also be a career first. For a rider whose career suffered such a shocking setback just a year ago, this has been a dream comeback race for the Dutchman.
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