Primoz Roglic says nothing but does everything – a recap of stages 11-21 of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana
After the first half of this year’s Vuelta, Primoz Roglic was in the lead. He was in the lead after the second half too. How did that happen?
Let’s pick up with, ooh, let’s go with Stage 13.
Stage 11 was most notable for the news that police had confiscated 40 marijuana plants spotted on a rooftop in helicopter footage of stage eight. Stage 12 was even less remarkable. Neither stage resulted in time gaps between the overall contenders.
Then it was Stage 13. The finish of which looked like this.
Los Machucos is the toughest climb to have featured in a Grand Tour, according to Simon Warren. As the author of about a dozen books with “Cycling Climbs” in the title, Warren knows a thing or two about rating uphill bits of road.
6.6km at 9.5% is greatly misleading as that includes four downhill sections and, according to Warren, “a gargantuan stretch of simply ludicrous 20- 30% gradient.”
There weren’t really any ‘attacks’ as such. Sometimes someone rode slightly quicker for a bit, but that generally just foreshadowed a compensatory spell when they would ride slower.
As they winched their way up, eventually the two Slovenians, Roglic and Tadej Pogacar, millimetred away from everyone else. Those two finished together with Pogacar taking the stage. (Comically, the finish itself was flat.)
The two Movistar riders, Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, were next, 27s back, with Miguel Angel Lopez further back still, a minute off the pace.
I’m going to group stages 15, 16 and 18 together and brand them “stages where different people finished alongside Primoz Roglic”.
While the other days might seem more obviously important, this is really how the Slovenian secured the Vuelta – while several people could match him on any given day, none of them could do so consistently.
On Stage 15, Roglic and Valverde gained time on the others. On Stage 16, Roglic, Pogacar and Lopez gained time. On Stage 18, Roglic, Valverde and Lopez gained time.
The cumulative effect of these three stages was that Roglic, who was already ahead, gained time on everyone.
Stage 17 was fairly nondescript in terms of the terrain, but a 30-rider break got away thanks to our old friend crosswinds.
God how I love crosswinds.
It was Belgian outfit Deceunick – Quick Step who rode on the front and sliced the peloton in half. I mention this because it’s so often them and we should all be very grateful. (It worked too – Philippe Gilbert won the stage.)
Nairo Quintana had looked good early in the Vuelta, but was routinely seeping time now that we were deeper into the race. By this point he was seven minutes down on Roglic, but he got into this wind-induced mega-break and in so doing vaulted back up to second overall.
Movistar get organised
The Movistar team of Valverde and Quintana are famed for their opaque tactics with no-one ever quite being sure who the team leader is. On Stage 19 they for once did something clear and logical: they attacked when they saw that the race leader had crashed.
This is generally considered a bit of a no-no. The unspoken rule is ‘carry on doing whatever you were doing before the crash’. If your team is already riding hard and the race leader falls – tough shit, everyone accepts that you’re going to press on. However, if you’re dithering along not making any real effort when he crashes, you’re kind of supposed to wait, not accelerate.
Miguel Angel Lopez, who was caught up in the same crash, was less than impressed.
“It’s always the same stupid people who do this,” he said. “Maybe one day they’ll win a race launching a straight attack. These really stupid actions are what the world champion’s team does. That’s what we’re dealing with. What a world champion we have.”
Primoz Roglic is never one to knowingly venture an interesting opinion if he can at all avoid it. Asked about the incident afterwards, he said: “My opinion is that I don’t know what happened.”
Movistar claimed they’d always planned to attack at that moment, which seems fairly unlikely. They were also upset that Roglic and Lopez were allowed to catch up by riding in the slipstreams of team cars.
In the end, Movistar offered a vague apology and Lopez apologised to Valverde. Roglic just got on with winning the Vuelta a Espana.
The final mountain stage
Stage 20 involved Tadej Pogacar killing everyone. He attacked on the penultimate climb with 40km to go and they never saw him again.
By the summit, his advantage was 1m30s. Having made such a hard effort, he was bound to pay the price a little on the tough final climb. By the finish his advantage was… 1m30s.
It is worth emphasising at this point that Tadej Pogacar is 20 years old.
The final stage was a pointless ceremonial sprint thing, so that was where the racing ended. Pogacar’s move shunted him up from fifth to third, 2m55s behind his countryman.
The filling between those Slovenian slices of bread was Valverde – a hugely impressive feat when you consider that (a) he’s 39 and (b) he was actually supposed to be going for stage wins, not the overall.
This is just what happens with Valverde though. Speaking before the race, Movistar team director José Luis Arrieta conceded: “It will be difficult for us to disconnect him from the general classification.”
‘Disconnecting himself from the general classification’ had also been the plan at the Tour, where he finished ninth.
What next for Roglic?
The winner has all a man could need to compete for the Tour de France. It’ll be interesting to see whether he tries to do so.
Next year he’ll be joined at Jumbo-Visma by Tom Dumoulin who’s the other great threat to Team Ineos’s mad dominance. Will the two of them ride together, or will one of them focus on the Giro?
The Tour of Lombardy is the last big one-day Monument of the year on October 12, but early autumn is really all about the World Championships in Yorkshire.
The women’s road race is on Saturday September 28 and the men’s is on the Sunday.
I’ll try and write something at some point. You can sign up to get that article emailed to you here, assuming it does actually materialise.