Primož Roglič took complete control of the Vuelta a España on stage 17's finish to Lagos de Covadonga, winning the stage and finishing with a comfortable enough margin to reclaim the red leader's jersey again.
Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) followed a long-distance move by Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) with 61km to go on the penultimate climb of the day, and proved to have the better legs as he dropped his Colombian rival with about 7km to go.
Bernal was brought back by the rest of the general classification contenders with 1.2km to the summit, with Sepp Kuss taking second place in a final dash for the line, making it a one-two for Jumbo-Visma on the stage
Former red jersey, Odd Christian Eiking (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) was dropped twice on the second and third climbs of the day before crashing and fading in his chase.
Roglič now leads the overall classification by 2-22 over his nearest rivals Enric Mas (Movistar) in second place.
How it happened
The so-called ‘queen stage’ of this year’s Vuelta a España started in the town of Enquera before tackling three categorised climbs with the middle one taken on twice. The stage would then atop the fearsome climb of Lagos de Covadonga after 185.8km.
An early break did eventually get away but it didn’t last too long at all thanks to an infernal pace in the peloton. It was still all together when Ineos Grenadiers set up an attack by Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) on the second ascent of the Collada Llomena climb with 61km to go.
He was followed by Primož Roglič who went into the virtual lead as Odd Christian Eiking was dropped twice and was sitting at around two minutes behind Bernal and Roglič before crashing along with Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech) on a wet descent.
There was a group of 13 riders in between those groups which contained the other key general classification contenders including Jack Haig as well as two Bahrain Victorious team-mates who were working hard for him.
Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), second overall Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), the Movistar duo of Enric Mas and Miguel Ángel López and three Jumbo-Visma in Sepp Kuss, Sam Oomen and Steven Kruijswijk riders were also in the Haig group, sitting at 1-25 behind at the bottom of the final descent with 42km to go as Roglič started to work with Bernal.
Ben Zwiehoff was put on the front of the chase group by his Bora-Hansgrohe leader Felix Großschartner but the gap continued to go out to 1-40 with 37km to go. By now, it was 3-29 to Eiking with his team-mate, Jan Hirt which was an excellent limit of losses.
Multiple riders made it back to the chasing group including Haig and Mas which there were more riders to chase including Rémy Rochas (Cofidis) who was working for second overall, Martin.
But the gap kept growing and was a touch over two minutes with 25km to go between them and four minutes back to Eiking who was gradually fading.
Großschartner fell and had a mechanical at the worst moment as Bahrain Victorious’ Damiano Caruso and Wout Poels upped the pace along with Rochas as the climb up the Lagos de Covadonga came ever closer. This pace meant that the gap to the leaders dipped under two minutes.
Bernal and Roglič hit the final climb with 13km to go but the gap had plummeted to 1-34 thanks to the hard work of Poels and Caruso. The speed into the foot of the climb saw lots of riders instantly dropped as they began to ride upwards, including Guillaume Martin. Großschartner did, however, make it back in with 10km to go.
Suddenly, Bernal was gapped by Roglič with 7.5km to go. The Slovenian star simply held his effort up the climb as Bernal visibly began to struggle to hold on. Roglič quickly put the gap back to the chasing GC group to 1-50 and 30 seconds into Bernal.
Miguel Ángel López was the first to attack from behind, with Adam Yates and Roglič's team-mate Sepp Kuss keen to try and chase after him with 7km to go. Gino Mäder was the next Bahrain Victorious rider to work for Haig along with Enric Mas as they bridged up to the attacking trio with 6km to go.
Mas was the next to kick off and he got a decent gap quickly with 5km to the summit as he looked to bridge to Bernal who had started to fade significantly. Yates joined Mas with Kuss and López following as Mäder continued to pace Haig.
Roglič, still pushing on solo, let out a roar as he crossed the line to take stage victory and put 1-35 into all his main rivals. His team-mate Kuss finished second as he beat López and Yates in a final kick to the line
The Vuelta continues with stage 18 on Thursday, another very tough mountain stage over 162.6km from the oddly named town of Rooms before finishing on the vicious new climb of the Altu d'El Gamoniteiru.
Vuelta a Espana 2021 stage 17: Enquera to Lagos de Covadonga (185.8km)
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 4-34-45
2. Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 1-35
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team
4. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers
5. Jack Haig (Aus) Team Bahrain Victorious
6. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team
7. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers
8. Gino Mäder (Sui) Team Bahrain Victorious, all at same time
9. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Team Qhubeka-NextHash, at 2-29
10. Clément Champoussin (Fra) Ag2r-Citroën, at 2-44
General classification after stage 17
1. Primož Roglič (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma, in 68-42-56
2. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 2-22
3. Miguel Ángel López (Col) Movistar Team, at 3-11
4. Jack Haig (Aus) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 3-46
5. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 4-16
6. Egan Bernal (Col) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-29
7. Adam Yates (GBr) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4-45
8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma, at 5-04
9. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 6-54
10. Gino Mäder (Sui) Team Bahrain Victorious, at 6-58
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