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  • Writer's pictureTom Thewlis

The moment Primož Roglič won his third Vuelta

Roglič punched the air as he crossed the line in what was the greatest performance of his cycling career to date. © Getty Images Sport

Primož Roglič confirmed his third successive Vuelta a Espana victory in style earlier this month, wrapping it up with a win in the final individual time trial. However, this had already felt like a done deal given Roglič’s stellar performances in the mountains earlier in the week. To many, this year’s Vuelta had been somewhat underwhelming, although by the time Stage 17 reached its dramatic climax, that was a notion that was long since forgotten. In recent years, we’ve been accustomed to seeing Grand Tour riders winning a time trial or two, and sprinting from a group to win mountain stages on their way to overall victory. That’s been the usual procedure for how to win a race like La Vuelta. Primož Roglič has fitted into that category of winners in the past, snatching stage wins and stealing bonus seconds where he could. Although, in the misty, cold and wet mountains of Asturias that would quickly change.

Sometimes in sport you must lay everything on the line to stand a chance of glory and ultimate victory. “No risk, no glory,” as Roglič said himself, earlier in the race. So as Egan Bernal gritted his teeth and launched an attack with more than 60 kilometres to go on one of the hardest mountain stages in La Vuelta, it was inevitable that the comparisons to Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx and other cycling greats would soon follow. It was also no wonder that the strongest man in the race, Primož Roglič, was the only rider that was capable of following Bernal up the road into the mist of the high mountains for his biggest test yet.

Roglič was the only rider capable of following 2021 Giro d’Italia winner Egan Bernal. © Getty Images Sport

As it turned out, Roglič had played his hand perfectly. Given his position he didn’t need to work with Bernal and take a turn in the wind. Instead, he slipped into Bernal’s shadow and let the Colombian lead the way towards the Lagos de Covadonga. Excluding one very small mishap where he was nearly forced to unclip, Bernal’s descent from La Collada Llomena was almost flawless.

The skills involved in descending occasionally don’t receive the recognition they deserve, but when pulled off in style, descending transcends itself into a real art form. There are few sights as beautiful in sport as that of riders smoothly carving up a fast, technical descent through breathtaking mountainous landscapes. It can often be precarious too, as riders fly down rain-soaked roads gymnastically poised on the bike, but this confirms that descending is indeed a thing of beauty. It takes real talent to build an advantage in a breakaway in this type of racing situation, and Bernal showed his class in that discipline as he attempted to turn La Vuelta on its head. Each time Bernal was forced to calculate exit lines, speed, braking and when to accelerate out of a corner, Roglič simply watched on and then copied the Colombian. By doing so he was then able to conserve vital energy, reaching the final climb anxiety and stress free ready to make one huge step towards his third Vuelta success.

The fog and rain made for a dramatic and menacing backdrop as Egan Bernal and Roglic reached the climb to Lagos de Covadonga. © Getty Images Sport

Throughout the day, Bernal showed his true class as a bike rider having already proven himself to be a Grand Tour rider of the absolute highest calibre. Due to the heroic and ‘all or nothing’ effort that he put in, it was no wonder that he slowly began to fade later in the day. It was far from easy, but as the two leaders climbed higher through the mist Roglič eventually left the Giro d’Italia champion behind. As the finish at the famous Lagos de Covadonga came into sight, Roglič pressed on for the final 7 kilometres having no intention of anyone bringing him back.

Eventually, Egan Bernal drifted back through the fog to be swept up by the chasing group containing the other big names. It was clear to see that Bernal had been far from his best during this year’s Vuelta, but the way in which he took it upon himself to attempt to flip the race on its head was courageous and enthralling. He is a fighter at heart and his ride on the day was arguably more impressive than any of his victories to date given the bravery he displayed in sticking with the attack he made. Although this did not lead to success this time, it forced Roglič to go with him and lit the race up, giving us the racing we had all been waiting for. Not only that but Bernal was on the attack again the following day, showing that he was far from done and intended to push Roglič and the other podium contenders all the way to the end. Primož Roglič may have won this Vuelta but Bernal will be back and challenging again on the biggest of stages next year.

Roglic pushed on through the crowds to take a famous victory adding to an already glittering palmares. © Getty Images Sport

At this point current race leader, Odd Christian Eiking, was long gone after stuttering on the descent that Roglič and Bernal had not long aced. Although by then no matter what anyone did, there would be no matching Roglič’s bestial display of brute force and power.

Less than two minutes after Roglič let out a monstrous scream of victory as he crossed the line, he then treated the chasing group to a sneaky glance at the new race leader as he passed them sprinting for second place and bonus seconds. As Sepp Kuss sprinted to sweep up second place, preventing other favourites from reducing the deficit to his team leader, he managed to exchange a cheeky grin with Roglič as the Slovenian passed them, towel around his neck, on the way back to the bus. As if the chasing group needed any reminder of just how brilliant the reigning champion of now three years had been.

Despite Roglič taking four more Vuelta stage wins on his way to his third overall victory, it would be fair to say that stage 17 was where the race was won. Once he left Bernal behind, Roglič confirmed that his latest success would be right up there in his list of greatest of all time, as he proved to the world just how complete a Grand Tour racer he had become. Some will say that confirmation of his status as one of cycling’s current greatest riders will only come when he wins the Tour de France, but Roglič won’t care. Becoming the Olympic Time Trial champion and winning your third successive Vuelta in the same summer, is some achievement indeed. When the former ski-jumper is in the sort of shape and form he showed himself to be in Spain, he is almost unstoppable. Maybe 2022 will finally be the year he gets a stroke of luck in July.

For now, Roglič adds his name to the short list of three-time Vuelta a Espana winners and is truly worthy of his place beside them. There was a beautiful symmetry to the conclusion of this year’s race as Roglič won the final time trial at the end of his own Camino de Santiago to match his opening day time trial win in Burgos. “See you next year” said the Slovenian as the curtain fell on his third overall victory. A foreboding prospect for the likes of Enric Mas and Jack Haig if they return next year, but an enthralling one for those of us watching on at home.

Roglič added another 4 stage wins to his tally on the way to Vuelta victory. The Slovenian now sits alongside Tony Rominger and Alberto Contador as a three-time Vuelta winner. © Bettini Photo

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