Stage four of the 2022 Vuelta a España: the race’s return to its trademark punchy stages and the first uphill finish on a route that contains nine (yes, nine) summit finishes. Primož Roglič blows away the field. Déjà vu, anyone?
Jumbo-Visma’s Slovenian climbing talent has won the last three editions of the Vuelta a España, and each time, he’s done it by dominating pretty similar stages. In 2019, he won stage ten, a 36 kilometre time trial to Pau and held on to the red jersey for 11 stages until the race concluded with a sprint in Madrid. A year later, in 2020, he won the race’s opening stage which was on a summit finish similar to the one in stage four of the 2022 race, out-sprinting Richard Carapaz on a climb averaging 8.5%. From then on Roglič and Carapaz flip flopped between the race lead, but Roglič took it for good on the 30 kilometre time trial of stage 13, taking it all the way to the end of the race.
In 2021, Roglič, once again, won the time trial to Burgos, taking the red jersey for a couple of stages before handing it over to some non-GC contenders who were never realistically going to take the overall victory. It was on the stage 17’s summit finish to Lagos de Covadonga that the Jumbo-Visma rider took red again, holding on to it until the end of the race to take his third consecutive Vuelta win.
You get the picture: Roglič can time trial incredibly well (he’s the Olympic Champion in the discipline) and he licks his lips when he spots a summit finish. In this year’s Vuelta a España, there’s an important individual time trial and a number of uphill finishes still to come, and Roglič is already in red. How can teams prevent the Jumbo-Visma rider from taking the rojo jersey for the fourth year in a row?
Image: ASO/Photo Gomez Sport
It’s true that beating Roglič in España is muy difícil. His form was in doubt ahead of the race after his crash in the Tour de France where the 32-year-old dislocated his shoulder, but he certainly silenced any naysayers with his dominant win on stage four of the 2022 race. As others rocked and rolled in difficulty behind him, Roglič stormed to his stage victory with what looked like apparent ease. He was floating over the pedals in his signature style, still checking over his shoulder in the final 50 metres to the line. In fact, he barely looked out of breath as the camera panned to him for a post-race interview.
If they want to beat him, other teams are going to need to make things a bit more interesante. It could be that the long, mountain stages are the place to do this. It’s here that Roglič has shown signs of weakness before: in 2020, the Slovenian lost 20 seconds to Carapaz on the brutal route to Alto de la Covatilla on stage 17. While he still had enough time to hold on for the overall win that year, it was clear that the Jumbo-Visma rider was suffering. It’s on this sort of terrain that Roglič won’t be able to use the fast kick he can produce on steep gradients to get one up on his GC rivals.
It’s also important to remember that this is a three week Grand Tour, there are still 17 stages to go yet Roglič and Jumbo-Visma already have the red jersey to defend. Albeit with different riders, they’ve actually had it for every stage so far in this race. Whether it’s Roglič himself who begins to show fatigue, or his teammates, some of his rivals may benefit from keeping their powder dry early on in the race. There’s plenty of elevation gain still to climb, lots of kilometres to cover, and the physical load of defending a leader's jersey during a three week Tour should not be underestimated.
Roglič did look unflappable on stage four of the 2022 Vuelta a España which was the first real test for the climbers. However, this year sees one of the most star-studded line-ups in the race’s history, and the likes of Bora-Hansgrohe, UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers aren’t going to sit back and watch Jumbo-Visma clean up yet another Grand Tour win. There’s plenty of racing still to come.
With its punchy finishes and individual time trial still to come, this route is especially suited to Roglič’s strengths, but there are opportunities for other teams to usurp him from his Vuelta a España throne, especially as the race reaches its latter stages.
Cover image: Toni Baixauli/ASO