Roglič back in red again already
There was to be no surprise outcome of the first stage of the Vuelta a España, and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) lived up to the label of hot pre-race favourite by triumphing with a stage win.
Even though this route in Burgos was several times shorter than the one in Tokyo where Roglič took Olympic gold, he was just as dominant, and defeated his nearest challenger Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) by a relatively considerable margin of six seconds.
This is Roglič's sixth Vuelta stage win in what is just his second appearance, and also extends his overall career Grand Tour tally to twelve.
Most importantly of all though, it means the Slovenian is already back in the red jersey that he won last year, and has made the best possible start to his title defence.
Although he would always have expected to gain time over his rivals against the clock, the manner in which he did so was especially encouraging, with no major GC rivals finishing within 14 seconds of his time despite the short length of the time trial.
On this basis, he’ll hope to use his red-hot form to gain more time in the coming key stages during the opening week, starting with Monday’s first summit finish. Their losses to him may be minor for now, but Roglic’s rivals will already be fearing what he can do to them this week.
Heartbreak for Aranburu
At what point must Alex Aranburu (Astana-Premier Tech) have felt he had a genuine chance of winning today’s stage?
He was the early pace-setter of the day, but with so many top riders and more recognised time trial specialists to come, he was unlikely to have initially believed that he would be in the hot-seat for too long.
But as one by one possible stage contenders failed to beat his time, it will have been harder to have resisted the feeling that this might just have been his day. Once one of the hot pre-race tips Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Victorious) also just fell short, leaving just a few riders left, victory suddenly felt like a very real possibility.
Unfortunately for Aranburu, Primož Roglič was one of those riders still to ride. As well as Aranburu had ridden to better every other rider, Roglič is in a whole other league to everyone else in this year’s Vuelta field, and so it turned out when he reached the finish with six seconds to spare.
Missing out on what would have been a first-ever Grand Tour victory and the biggest win of his career will nevertheless be a bitter pill to swallow. But on the bright side, to put a time trial in like this as a non-specialist is a very good omen ahead of stages that suit Aranburu better. He may have missed out on the win today, but looks a top favourite for the punchy road stages later this race.
Ineos Grenadiers’ leadership remains open
Ineos Grenadiers have indicated that they will let the road decide which of their multi-pronged leadership will wind up being their main man for GC. But on the basis of this first stage, the road is providing no clear answer year.
All four of their possible GC candidates finished within seven seconds of each other, times that all will be pleased with, yet none delighted with.
Intriguingly, the man most tipped to ultimately be backed as their main man, Egan Bernal, was the worst-performing of the four, finishing 46th at 27 seconds.
Although that’s still a perfectly good time for a lightweight climber whose one weakness is against the clock, the same can be said of Adam Yates, and he went seven seconds quicker. Although it’s too early to draw any conclusions, could it be that Bernal is still struggling for top form following his long rest after winning the Giro d’Italia last May, while Yates has arrived at the Vuelta on top form?
Richard Carapaz also looked a little rusty in finishing 25 seconds down, but not as rusty as you’d expect someone who has so recently finished third at the Tour de France and won the Olympics road race on the other side of the world. This ride suggests he could yet be a GC contender.
And lastly, Pavel Sivakov also kept himself up in contention as a potential plan-D. The Russian hasn’t successfully ridden for a Grand Tour GC since finishing ninth at the Giro d’Italia over two years ago, but has the capability of doing so, and Ineos Grenadiers will be happy with his only losing 22 seconds to Roglič today.
Landa’s start ramp mishap
Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious) starts this Vuelta desperate to make up for the bitter disappointment of his Giro d’Italia this season, which ended abruptly after a fine start when he crashed on stage five.
Landa was especially frustrated by having to abandon given the hot form he’d shown leading into the race and during the first few days, but he’s managed to get back on his bike and work his way back into form and looked to have reached his best again when he won the Vuelta a Burgos a week ago.
Despite this, his Vuelta campaign nearly got off to a disastrous start, when he only made the start ramp with seconds to spare before starting his ride.
Although he didn’t end up needlessly throwing away seconds by turning up late, the way he had to rush may still have affected his ride. The fact he finished 88th, 39 seconds down on Roglic and a fair few seconds to most of the other GC contenders, suggests that something was not quite right.
There’s still a long way to go, and these handful of seconds are unlikely to mean much in the grand scheme of things, but Landa will need things to go more smoothly if he’s to have a chance of at last winning his first-ever Grand Tour.
How the other GC favourites stacked up
While Roglič gained considerable time, and Landa lost a fair bit, every other GC contender was packed closely together.
Romain Bardet (DSM) was the big winner, gaining time (albeit a few seconds) over riders he’d usually be finishing well behind. He may have benefited from the technical nature of the time trial course, but it could also be that he’s in red-hot form, following his stage win at the Vuelta a Burgos recently.
British hope Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo) might be a little concerned given that he finished down in 62nd at 33 seconds, but the real test of his form will come in two day's time on the summit finish of Picon Blanco.
Elsewhere, all three of Movistar’s leaders Enric Mas (at 18 seconds), Miguel Ángel López (at 21 seconds) and Alejandro Valverde (at 27 seconds) finished close together; Giro stars Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech), Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) appear to be back in form, losing just 14, 21 and 27 seconds respectively to Roglič; and Roglič's Jumbo-Visma team still has plenty of back-up options with Sepp Kuss impressing to finish twelfth at just 15 seconds, and Steven Kruijswijk limiting his losses to just 26 seconds.
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