SLOVENIAN star Primoz Roglic wipes out his Tour de France heartbreak with a nerve-wracking fightback in Spain, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
THE Vuelta a Espana, the third and final road cycling Grand Tour, delivered a classic duel between defending champion Slovenian Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) and Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and it came to an explosive and fitting climax on the serious slopes of La Covatilla on Saturday.
In what looked like being a nightmare repeat performance of his heartbreaking Tour de France loss, Roglic had to dig into his deepest reserves to save his 47 second lead on Carapaz.
Left without his trusty support of American Sepp Kuss and Kiwi George Bennet who had finally cracked under the extreme workload of a huge day in atrocious wet and cold conditions, the Slovenian looked really vulnerable for the first time.
Four kilometres from the finish third placed Brit Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling) who was only 53 seconds down and only eight seconds from Carapaz, attacked and Roglic was in trouble. That was when Carapaz seized his chance for glory and left the Slovenian in his wake, stormed past Carthy and charged clear.
An intense battle ensued as Roglic tried desperately to limit the damage and Carapaz put it all on the line. The gap between the two got out to 25 seconds with still two kilometres to go and the race was in the balance. Roglic was assisted for a short time by his Dutch teammate Lennard Hofstede, who had dropped back from the breakaway, but then it was all up to the Slovenian and he showed his true class, managing to claw back a few precious metres to limit his loss to just 21 seconds.Embed from Getty Images
There was a special moment as Roglic crossed the line and realised he had saved his Vuelta. He rode past his waiting team handlers and straight over to Carapaz and congratulated the Ecuadorian on great fight. It was a beautiful display of sportsmanship and respect to the enthralling battle the two have had for nearly three weeks.
A relieved Roglic was full of praise for his team.
“It’s always good to have some exciting finishes but I was still had just enough so that I knew that if I rode at my own tempo then it should be enough. The finish was good. I wasn’t always in control but then in the end at some point you just need to do your thing. For sure having Hofstede drop back helped but it was a really nice job from the whole team. What can I say, I’m super happy, and it’s a really nice way to finish the season.
Saturday’s 17th stage was a race of two parts with a strong breakaway going for the win and the main protagonists fighting for the overall victory.
A group of more than 30 riders escaped on another rough day of climbing in wet and cold conditions. The breakaway was never given too much leeway but there were plenty of firepower in the group to force the pace and as they approached the final penultimate climb the battle for the stage victory burst into action.
Frenchman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) was the strongest and rode clear to comfortably take his second stage win from Swiss Gino Mader (NTT) in second and Spaniard Ion Izagirre (Astana) in third.
It has been an amazing season. To squeeze thee grand tours and most of the one-day classics into less than three months in itself seemed an impossibility. But to do it in the middle of a global pandemic and get through it is staggering. There were undoubtedly some challenging moments but overall the UCI controlling body, the race organisers, the teams and especially the riders should be congratulated.
This Vuelta has followed on from a brilliant Tour de France and an equally special Giro d’Italia to deliver a wonderful finale and draw the curtain on a season that we all hope never has to be repeated.