Primoz Roglic takes a turn to be favourite – a recap of stages 1-10 of the 2019 Vuelta a Espana

When you’re reporting on the first 10 stages of a 21-stage race, there’s only one logical place to start.

Let’s talk about Stage 7.

Some things never change

Stage 7 was the archetypal Vuelta stage. It finished with 20% gradients and Alejandro Valverde kicking at the top to be first across the line. Blur your eyes and it could have been 2012. All that was missing was Joaquim Rodriguez pushing his countryman to the limit.

In 2019, this particular finish was the most important of the first week of racing because it seemed to give us the clearest idea of who is in the running to win this race. That steep final climb stripped away all but four: World Champion, Valverde; former ski jumper, Primoz Roglic; a reinvigorated Nairo Quintana; and pocket pugilist Miguel Angel Lopez.

Each has a claim to be the strongest in this race and weirdly, despite winning the stage, Valverde’s claim is probably the weakest. While his top speed uphill remains quicker than anyone’s, he seemed at times to be struggling to match the pace that the other three could maintain further down the slope.

We can maybe revert to more conventional chronology now.

Stage 1

The race started with a team time trial, so all you need to know about that is which team was fastest and which team crashed because a paddling pool had burst near the route and flooded a corner.

Primoz Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team, who everyone thought would win, crashed because of water from a burst paddling pool and lost 50 seconds. The winners turned out to be Astana, which meant Miguel Angel Lopez immediately – and surprisingly – took the race lead.

Team Ineos done before they’ve even started

The Vuelta doesn’t piss about and the first road stage was tough enough that plenty of overall contenders lost touch with the front of the race.

Most lost 30 seconds or so to stage winner Nairo Quintana, but Team Ineos’s Tao Geoghegan Hart lost 10 minutes. This meant his Vuelta challenge was even more short-lived than his Giro one, where he lost 1m30s on stage three before crashing out on stage 13. Dave Brailsford says he is the future of the team, which may or may not be a comment on the present.

It was pretty obvious that Quintana was the strongest rider in the race anyway.

Mountain time

Stages three and four ended in bunch sprints, so we don’t care about them (although it’s worth mentioning that the latter saw Steven Kruijswijk abandon because of injuries he suffered in the paddling pool crash.)

Two sprint stages in a row is pretty weird for the Vuelta. Feeling greatly uncomfortable about this, they then threw in a full mountain stage. The finish was an 11km climb, most of which was at double digit gradients because it’s the Vuelta.

Of our four favourites, Lopez was quickest, then Roglic and Valverde and then there was a surprisingly hefty 40s gap to Quintana.

Lopez’s nickname is ‘Superman’ which is so lacking in subtlety I can’t actually believe anyone can bring themselves to use it. But they do. They use it routinely.

Far and away my favourite aspect of this is that you get to hear someone like Valverde say it with complete seriousness. “I was riding in a group with Quintana, Roglic and Superman,” he’ll say with a completely straight face, as if he just happens to hang out with a superhero sometimes.

It’s like hearing someone say, “I was having a quiet pint with Ironman in The Pack Horse the other day.”

It was pretty obvious that Lopez was the strongest rider in the race anyway.

Different mountain time

Our four leading men finished in the same group on stage six. Then it was stage seven, which we’ve already covered; then it was a sprint stage, in which we’re not interested; and then it was back to the mountains for Stage 9.

Feeling confident, Lopez attacked, but a combination of hail and gravel caused him to crash and a 30-second advantage over the other three pretty quickly became a deficit.

Quintana was the quickest and by this point it was pretty obvious that he was the strongest rider in the race… although he was dropped by the young Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, who took the stage win.

Pogacar is in fifth place overall and actually only a whisker away from making the ‘big four’ theme of this article entirely incorrect.

The individual time trial

The time trial came after the rest day, but I’m a bit late with this round-up and it seems appropriate to report on a block of racing that started and ended with a time trial anyway, so that’s what I’m doing.

As ever, the time trial story is just pure numbers. Primoz Roglic won the stage by 25 seconds. “I try to go as fast as possible in every time trial and that’s what I did today,” he explained, somewhat unnecessarily.

Pogacar (might as well start mentioning him) was 1m29s slower, Valverde was 1m38s slower, Lopez was 2m slower and Quintana was (oof) 3m06s slower.

By this point it was pretty obvious that Roglic was the strongest rider in the race.

The top 10

After 10 stages, this is the situation.

What’s next?

Ah, you know: hills, mountains, summit finishes. I’m not yet 100 per cent certain whether I’ll recap the second week or the whole second half of the race (more likely the latter) so I don’t want to give a full stage breakdown.

Besides, it’s the Vuelta. Half the fun is not knowing, isn’t it?

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