Whether he plans his attacks or not, it seems Primož Roglič is unstoppable at the Vuelta a España.
For the third edition in a row the Slovenian is poised for a commanding victory, today blowing away the only rival daring enough to challenge him with a long-range attack.
Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) did what he promised and attempted to put the race favourite under pressure on stage 17's penultimate climb over Collada Llomena, but could do nothing to shake Roglič from his wheel.
There was no need for Roglič to follow the move from Bernal with an enormous 61km to go and just the small matter of a climb up Lagos de Covadonga to come. Indeed, the Colombian sat 15 seconds shy of three minutes behind the race's defending champion - a more than manageable gap for Roglič and his imperious Jumbo-Visma team-mates to work with, and one that lent itself to riding conservatively.
Roglič says none of that crossed his mind as Bernal made his move, in fact very little did. So content was he with his choice to follow Bernal that Roglič even began to work with his rival in the valley before the final climb. From there, with more than a minute on the other GC contenders, Roglič simply wore Bernal down before only he remained out front with 7km to the summit.
“In cycling, there is always risk, a lot of things can happen," Roglič said at the finish.
"But it went well today. I enjoyed it. It’s a super-nice day for me and the whole team. I didn’t think anything, I just went with [Egan Bernal]. It’s a race! Then I was thinking a little bit… Wow, this is quite far, with still a hard climb in the end. But it was going well and we showed real racing.
"I just rode as hard as possible on the last climb. At that point, Egan didn’t follow anymore so I went alone."
The day was made even more super-nice for Roglič and Jumbo-Visma after Sepp Kuss' successful final push for second place on the stage, and the team will be quietly confident that a third consecutive Vuelta title will be in their hands come Sunday.
Roglič will begin Friday's similarly brutal mountain stage with a 2-22 on his nearest rival Enric Mas (Movistar), but needs only to follow the others around Asturias and Galicia before the final stage time trial, where he'll surely increase his lead further.
Of course, no one is willing to speak too soon (especially not Roglič), with the incumbent race leader remaining coy on the strength of his current advantage at the top of the general classification.
"The gap on GC is never big enough," Roglič said, "but it’s a nice one, we deserve it.
"No matter what, tomorrow we have a queen stage coming, so we’ll see if it’s enough.”
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Follow on Twitter: @richwindy
Richard is digital editor of Cycling Weekly. Joining the team in 2013, Richard became editor of the website in 2014 and coordinates site content and strategy, leading the news team in coverage of the world's biggest races and working with the tech editor to deliver comprehensive buying guides, reviews, and the latest product news.
An occasional racer, Richard spends most of his time preparing for long-distance touring rides these days, or getting out to the Surrey Hills on the weekend on his Specialized Tarmac SL6 (with an obligatory pub stop of course).
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