THERE’S no stopping the Slovenian superstar as the big race is decided in the mountains, writes JOHN TREVORROW:
SLOVENIAN Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) looks set to take his third straight Vuelta a Espana after a commanding performance on the race’s toughest days.
Stage 17 and 18 through the rugged and extremely beautiful Asturian mountain range of North Western Spain, lived up to all the hype and finally delivered the knockout blow for the overall title, with Roglic two and a half minutes clear of all challengers.
Roglic was rock solid crushing everyone to win solo on stage 17 and kept young Miguel Angel Lopez (Movistar) in check to finish second to the Colombian on stage 18 which finished on the wickedly steep Altu d’El Gamoniteiru.
This is a monster. A 14 km climb, with ramps of 20%, being used for the first time. Although there are smaller climbing stages still to come, this was always going to be the final opportunity to race for the red leader’s jersey.
A group of 32 riders got clear and the break was allowed a little bit of leeway. It was dual stage winner, Australia’s Michael Storer (Team DSM), who rode clear with more than 60 kms still to go. The young West Australian put in another powerful performance and was only caught on the final brutal climb. But he earned enough mountain points along the way to take the over the polka dot jersey from his teammate Romain Bardet.
Bahrain Victorious made much of the running in the main peloton, hoping to put pressure on the main contenders for their leader Aussie Jack Haig in his quest for a final podium on Sunday. But although Jack stayed in contention on the final climb, his main rivals took a small amount of time from him. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) showed that he is back in form and attacked in the final 5 kms only to be counter attacked by fellow Colombian Lopez who sprinted away to take the stage. The diminutive climber is nicknamed Superman, and this climb suited his capabilities perfectly. His lead got out to more than 30 seconds before Roglic showed who was in charge and closed it to 14 seconds on the line. Enric Mas was another 6 seconds back with Bernal at 8 seconds behind Roglic. Haig had to settle for fifth place, 58 seconds down on stage winner Lopez and 34 behind red jersey Roglic. In the overall standings, the Australian remains fourth overall, now 4:36 behind Roglič and 1:43 off a podium spot.
“The team rode super well today, I’m really happy with the work they did and this final climb is brutal, super steep and quite cold now up top,” said Haig, who explained his team’s efforts were partly to defend their lead in the team classification. “It was a bit for the team classification, but I also wanted a really hard day to see if anyone cracked. We had a really hard day yesterday and I thought to put everyone under pressure, we’d ride hard all day with a super high tempo and then someone might crack on the final climb. But everyone was super strong and I’m not sure GC changed too much.”
Stage 17 was the standout stage for me as far as the race for the red jersey is concerned. The pace was super high right from the flag drop and no breakaway was given much leeway. There have been many question marks on Egan Bernal’s form. The 2019 TdF champion and winner of this year’s Giro in May, contracted Covid immediately after the Italian Tour. But the Colombian burst clear with 60 km still to travel. Roglic went with him, and the pair worked together and put everyone else to the sword. On the final steep slopes of the famous Lagos de Covadonga, Roglic rode clear, and Bernal was eventually caught by the chasing group with 900 metres to go. It was an amazing performance by both champions. Roglic did not have to work with Bernal but he showed enormous strength in doing so. What impressed me most about Bernal’s ride was that he was bold enough to go so early when he hasn’t been in great form.