La Vuelta a Espana 2021: Primoz Roglic holds court but must now battle the emerging red curse
After the struggles in red experienced by Rein Taaramae and Kenny Elissonde, Primoz Roglic will be hoping the recent trend doesn’t continue as he returns to the race summit for a second stint in the maillot rojo after a three-day hiatus. Not beating Magnus Cort in Stage 6 will at least put karma on his side.
'What a ride!' - Cort pips Roglic in enthralling uphill sprint finish to Stage 6
Back in the red jersey after a three-day break, Primoz Roglic will hope that the maillot rojo brings him a little bit more luck than it did its previous two owners.
The two red jerseys that Rein Taaramae can frame and hang up on his wall as souvenirs from his days leading the Vuelta will both be rather shredded, following those back-to-back crashes suffered by the Estonian veteran following his Stage 3 victory. Meanwhile, the Frenchman who took over, Kenny Elissonde, endured a rotten day in red on Thursday – distanced in splits well before the finish and then comprehensively schooled on the final ascent by the uphill master himself, Roglic.
Still, the defending champion didn’t quite have enough gas in the tank to reel in the last man standing from the breakaway – either that, or Roglic learned from his mistake in Paris-Nice where his impulsive greediness to deny Gino Mader a win in the penultimate stage was not a good look. Especially retrospectively when the Slovenian effectively crashed out on the final day.
This time, on the steep 9.4 per cent gradient of the Alto de la Montana de Cullera overlooking the glistening blue sea of the Costa del Azahar – the “Orange Blossom Coast” to you or me – Roglic did enough to put time into all his rivals, but not so much as to deny Magnus Cort a deserved victory.
The Danish powerhouse rouleur-sprinter was part of the five-man move which didn’t form until a third-way through the 184km Stage 6 but which quickly managed to establish a lead of seven minutes on the ride towards the Mediterranean coast. Once the gap started to tumble ahead of Valencia, it looked like Cort and chums wouldn’t stand a chance of staying out – especially when Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma contributed to the fun and games behind in a section of narrow roads buffeted by coastal winds.
It was Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers who actually did the most damage – causing splits in the peloton and a final hour of hell for Britain’s Hugh Carthy, the big GC loser of the day. With his colleague in pink still out ahead, Carthy needed all the remaining EF Education-Nippo teammates he could get to pace him back to the fold ahead of a final climb on which he inevitably suffered.
Carthy eventually came home 2:50 down on Cort, whose winning time was matched by that man Roglic, who crossed the line right in his wheel – having possibly resisted to inflict upon the Dane the same humiliation he dealt out to the Swiss youngster, Mader.
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The Slovenian’s time gaps were not huge but nor was the final climb – less than 2km long in fact. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-PremierTech) and Enric Mas (Movistar) finished four seconds back and Egan Bernal – whose Ineos teammates Richard Carapaz and Jhonatan Narvaez set a throbbing tempo going onto the climb – a further four seconds in arrears.
Bernal may have limited his losses, but his teammates Carapaz and Adam Yates shipped 27 and 25 seconds respectively, with Mikel Landa (Bahrain Victorious) and Giulio Ciccone (Trek Segafredo) also losing 27 and 25 seconds apiece.
Besides Roglic, the big winners were Movistar – not something you often write – who placed all three of their leading trident in the top 10. A glance at the new-look general classification and it’s impossible not to miss Mas, Miguel Angel Lopez and Alejandro Valverde all clustered together underneath the race leader, whom they trail by 25, 36 and 41 seconds.
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It’s an intriguing scenario ahead of the first real mountain test of the race on Friday, with the defending champion looking on supreme form, but his nearest Jumbo-Visma teammate – the American Sepp Kuss – over three minutes back, something which gives his team very little leeway. If Movistar use their power in numbers sensibly, they could put Roglic under some serious pressure. Ineos Grenadiers, too, have their three cards to play with Bernal at 41 seconds, Yates at 1:22 and Carapaz at 2:18.
Should the emerging curse of the red jersey continue and Roglic suffer the same kind of setbacks experienced by his predecessors Taaramae and Elissonde – the same kind of setback, indeed, he himself endured in the Tour de France – then the outlook of this Vuelta will suddenly look very different.
As it stands, the top seven riders are all within one minute. Everything is there to play for. And if so much drama came from a largely flat stage with a 1.9km kicker at the end, then the six categorised climbs that pepper the menu for Stage 7 – including the final double-digit ramps of the Balcon de Alicante – could take things to a whole new level.