A fumbled rain jacket may have cost Primož Roglič the overall lead of the Vuelta a España last Sunday, but the Jumbo-Visma racer did anything but fluff his lines three days later as he soared to a dramatic summit stage 8 victory, and came close to regaining la roja into the bargain.
In a thrilling, high sierras duel featuring Roglič and race leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), for the last half of the Alto de Moncalvillo climb, the two riders exchanged two-wheeled blows that eventually saw the Slovenian come out on top. But it was no foregone conclusion.
Shadowing Carapaz as he chased down Hugh Carthy (EF Pro Cycling), Roglič then single-handedly dragged the little group of favourites back up to the Ecuadorian, squashed an attack by Alexandr Vlasov (Astana Pro Team) and finally overhauled Carapaz in person.
For the last, agonisingly steep kilometre of a hitherto, unprecedented Vuelta climb – but which has gone straight into the race’s history books thanks to today’s epic duel – the gap between the two widened, narrowed, then widened again in a spellbinding finale.
By the summit, Roglič could claim a second stage win, a 17-second gap – including time bonuses – on Carapaz, distance all the remaining rivals on GC, and on top of that, confirm that Sunday’s rain jacket issue was in no way indicative of underlying poor form. On the contrary, on Wednesday’s evidence, Roglič was the Vuelta’s coming man.
“The end was just super hard and I’m super happy that I had the legs to push a little more and win the stage today,” said Roglič, who is also on the Grand Tour comeback trail from his stinging last-minute shock defeat at the Tour de France.
“I always like to win, so if there is a small opportunity, definitely I take it. Getting some seconds is good, it’s nice to get some time back, but most of all it’s just nice to win the race.”
Jumbo-Visma had started out the day on a difficult note, following Tom Dumoulin’s DNS and with the fallout from Roglič’s past error in the Pyrenees still reverberating gently in the race’s collective consciousness. But on the Moncalvillo – where just to make matters even better for Jumbo, teammates Sepp Kuss showed his strong climbing form of the Tour is no way lost, and Robert Gesink also put in a tidy little drive early on – Roglič’s victory has enabled the Dutch squad to regain massive momentum.
“We already knew after stage 6 [in the Pyrenees] we had made a mistake [with the rain jacket], we all knew it, and we had to spend way too much energy just to come back and that energy for sure was missing at the end, in the last three kilometres,” Roglič recounted.
“Today’s stage was quite a boring slow start, but then the pace went up and it was a super hard last part. I didn’t know the last climb but when it’s a good opportunity if you want to win, you have to go.”
Ultimately though, his winning strategy came down to instinct, or as Roglič put it, “it’s more because of a feeling than saying ‘now I will go.’”
Whether he was using his heart or his head, one strategy that does seem to have changed considerably from when Roglič and Carapaz last crossed swords, in the 2019 Giro, is that the Slovenian did not give the Ecuadorian, who beat him in the Italian Grand Tour, any room to maneouvre.
Although the general interpretation of the 2019 Giro is that Roglič and arch-rival Vincenzo Nibali spent too much time observing each other rather than chasing down Carapaz, the Slovenian had a simpler analysis. In May 2019 in Italy, he didn’t have the strength to follow or attack Carapaz, and in October 2020, he did.
“First of all you need to have legs to follow him when he attacks and I didn’t have the legs [in 2019] to do that,” Roglič explained. “But he’s also a super strong rider and he’s still the leader of the Vuelta. If you can follow, you have to follow.”
And, to judge by Wednesday’s evidence in the Vuelta, if you can drop Carapaz, Roglič might have added, then you do that, too.