Terrific Roglič leads again
Primož Roglič is within touching distance of securing a third consecutive Vuelta a España.
His two crashes last week raised the suggestion that the Slovenian could struggle in the race’s final, crucial week, but the Jumbo-Visma man laughed at such a prospect with an utterly spectacular display of superiority on stage 17.
Roglič, who had ceded the red leader’s jersey to Odd Christian Eiking a week ago, responded to Egan Bernal’s attack 61km from the line, and then on the final climb to Los Lagos de Covadonga in the pouring Asturias rain, it was he who made the attacking move, immediately putting several metres into Bernal that grew to over a minute.
The 31-year-old soloed to the line, displaying his characteristic poker face and pushing out a smooth cadence, eating up the tough, brutal gradients as if he were out on a training ride.
By the end, he finished 1-39 ahead of six of his other rivals, jumping back into the race lead and extending his advantage over Enric Mas considerably, now leading by 2-22.
It's on days like this when you really need to take a minute and appreciate just how strong – mentally and physically – Roglič is.
A third red jersey is richly deserved, and all he needs to do now, with a lead of over two minutes, is stay on his feet, and he can add Grand Tour title number three to his palmarès.
Bernal's exciting move comes to nothing
Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal had confidently stated after stage 16 that he was ready to attack as he had nothing to lose.
Today we learned that we really ought to take the Colombian at his word, for that is exactly what he did, his bold endeavours resulting in the most exciting stage of the Vuelta.
On the second climb of La Collada Llomena with just under 62km still to race, Bernal attacked midway up the ascent’s slopes, bringing with him Roglič and setting a rhythm that everyone behind was unable to match.
It would have frustrated but not surprised Bernal that Roglič, 2-45 superior to him, jumped on his wheels, effectively nullifying any prospect of the Ineos Grenadiers man moving into the race lead.
As the climb to Lagos de Covadonga began, the duo had a lead of around two minutes to their GC rivals, but it was here when Bernal seemed to pay for his efforts, allowing Roglič to attack him and suffering to maintain the distance he had to Enric Mas, Sepp Kuss, Miguel Ángel López and Adam Yates.
With around 1.8km to go, the quartet caught Bernal and they, along with Gina Mäder and Jack Haig, all finished together, rendering Bernal’s early efforts ultimately useless.
Even if it didn’t go how Bernal intended, he deserves huge kudos for lighting up what has been a fairly boring Vuelta.
Eiking drops out of the top-10
Odd Christian Eiking will not be winning this year’s Vuelta a España.
It’s a statement that, said a week ago, would have been met with a ‘well, of course not’, however thanks to his stage 10 performance the Norwegian has spent over a week untroubled in red.
But on the Vuelta’s first proper relentless mountain stage, tasked with three monstrous climbs and a pent-up peloton let by Primož Roglič, Eiking was unable to keep hold of his near-one minute lead and eventually finished 9-23 behind stage winner Roglič.
He was struggling in the back of the peloton with 100km to race on the first of two ascents of La Collado Llomena, and when Egan Bernal and Roglič made their move, Eiking only went further backwards, even falling on the wet, slippery roads after the second ascent of what proved to be his nemesis climb.
From there it was a job of limiting his losses to keep him in contention for a top-10 face. He eventually dropped to 11th, but is only 1-01 behind Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious), a margin that is not insurmountable given the parcours of the final four stages.
Whatever happens in the coming days, the 26-year-old has shot himself into the limelight and can always proudly declare that he led a Grand Tour for seven stages. There’s not many bike riders who can say such a thing. Chapeau, Odd.
Movistar pair back into the podium spots
The opening two weeks of the race has repeatedly showcased that Movistar have the best multiple-pronged attack in Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López, and the duo further increased their probability of securing a place on the race’s podium.
López finished third, with the same time as Sepp Kuss, 1-35 adrift from Roglič, with Mas just a few metres back.
Of course the Spanish team came here to win the race outright, so there will be disappointed that their task looks like being unfulfilled, but after a few years of being the laughing stock on the Grand Tour stage, they will be taking a huge amount of optimism from their performance at the Vuelta.
Both Mas and López have been the most consistent riders in the race, with the exception of the race leader, and both seem to have found the form they once promised and both delivered previously in 2018.
Mas and López eventually caught Bernal probably more through the latter’s tiredness than anything else, but managing one’s own pace and knowing one’s own limits is a skill that Grand Tour champions have.
Two spots on the podium are not quite secured yet – Jack Haig is 35 seconds behind López in third – but it looks probable.
Other GC riders fail to get the better of each other
As for the rest, it was much of the same. But first, Guillaume Martin; it could have been a lot worse.
The Frenchman was second going into stage 17, and although he was to finish almost five minutes shy of Primož Roglič, he kept himself in the frame for a best-ever Grand Tour finish.
Martin rolled home a little over three minutes behind the other GC favourites, but only dropped three places to fifth, and is still ahead of Egan Bernal and Adam Yates.
It’s questionable if he can hold onto that position in the upcoming two mountain stages and final stage time trial, but he’s put himself in a great position to improve on his eighth place at this summer’s Tour de France.
Elsewhere, the performance of Roglič and the muted response of the rest means that for the others it’s all to play for in the hunt for the final podium spot and securing a high enough finish as possible.
Adam Yates moved up one place to seventh but still sits 1-34 off López, the same predicament that Sepp Kuss finds himself in.
Roglič is the best, but not much separates those who are supposedly his rivals.
Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.
Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter. His laptop is as important as his avalanche equipment when he goes ski touring, and he almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from mountains.
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