One day less. Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) came through stage 14, the first of two dauntingly long stages during the third week of the Vuelta a España, with his overall lead intact and with the chance of outright victory still very much on the table.
Tenth in the tricky uphill finish in a distinctly unlovely area of the city of Ourense, Roglič came sweeping round the corner close to the front of the main group behind the breakaway keeping a close eye on Dan Martin (Israel Start Up Nation), one of the fastest in the peloton on such finales.
After his blistering uphill victory in Suances that netted him la roja for a second of three times a little less than a week ago, there had been speculation that Roglič might try one of his dreaded late accelerations to snatch a few more seconds.
But instead, he seemed content with being very well positioned in the finale, and with the red jersey on his shoulders for a ninth stage.
“It was a super fast pace for us on the last climb,” Roglič told reporters afterwards. “It didn’t matter where you were you had to do a sprint.
“If I had been going for victory or something different, for sure there would have been a bigger fight in the main group. But it was a hard climb all the same.”
Asked if he would have liked to go for a fifth stage win, Roglič said he would have if there were bonus seconds on offer. “But the break was going very well.”
The breakaway was back to 90 seconds at one point thanks to Astana and Total Direct Energie, but eventually finished ahead by nearly four minutes with Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal) taking the stage win.
“It was a very fast stage” – run off at over 44.3km “and the guys like that were a very strong group, it was almost impossible to bring them back.”
Thursday’s grind eastwards through Galicia and into the northwesterly tip of its neighbouring region, Zamora, is the longest stage of the Vuelta at 234 kilometres and with 4,000 metres of vertical climbing hiding behind what are officially five third category ascents, it promises to be a tough day out in the saddle.
“The first 50 kilometres are flat, but the rest of the day the route never stops undulating, and it could rain in the last part of the stage as well,” said former double Vuelta winner Pedro Delgado, now commentating for Spanish broadcaster TVE.
“It could be a very difficult build-up for the weekend of mountainous stages, really wear the riders down.”
Asked about how it felt to be doing such mammoth stages so late in the race, Roglič argued “after everything we’ve done up to now, everyone feels it in their legs. But we don’t have a choice, the stage is there, and we’ll try to do our best.”