Opinion: Magnificent Magnus caught at the death by ruthless Roglic in Stage 11 of La Vuelta
Any doubts as to whether Primoz Roglic would be adversely affected by his fall in Stage 10 were put to bed with another dominant display from the Slovenian one day later. But the star of the show was Magnus Cort, who came within 200 metres of denying Roglic on his own terrain for a second time in six days.
'I gave it everything' - Cort Nielsen reacts to dramatic Stage 11 finale
With three-hundred metres to go, Magnus Cort still had a six-second gap over his pursuers. By the time he crossed the line, the Dane finished 49 seconds down on Stage 11 winner Primoz Roglic – the same man he’d held at bay six days earlier.
The scripts were eerily similar. In Stage 6, Cort was the last man standing of a five-man breakaway which had a 30-second gap going onto the 2km finish climb of the Alto de la Montana de Cullera. And as the GC battle broke out behind, the EF Education-Nippo rider in pink just did enough to stop Roglic from passing him for the win.
Fast forward almost a week and Cort was once again part of a five-man breakaway seemingly doomed to fall far earlier than his previous one. With the peloton returning to within 45 seconds of the break as the race hit the Puerto de Locubin with 20km remaining, Cort took matters into his own hands and dropped the dead wood.
Almost instantly all four of his fellow escapees were swept up by the pack as Cort dug in to maintain a slender 20-second lead over the summit. Far from throw in the towel here, he managed to lay it out on the sun lounger – stretching his lead on the descent, riding under the flamme rouge in Valdepenas de Jaen with a 30-second gap. A big enough cushion on most finishes – but peanuts when the road ramps up to 25 per cent and the two best climbers of the race are duking it out behind.
But even so, Cort held on admirably – to the point that it almost looked like he was going to do the impossible and double up with a fifth career win on the Vuelta. It won’t make it any easier for Cort when he looks back at the footage and sees that Roglic and Mas were seemingly chewing the fat about the weather as they closed in on his back wheel in the narrow cobbled streets.
Vuelta a España: Highlights as Roglic bounces back to take Stage 11 win
Cort benefitted from this brief respite, edging clear again as his pursuers were joined by the likes of Adam Yates and Jack Haig when the road levelled out a touch. But then the inevitable happened once the Spaniard took the initiative and launched his final sprint and the field swept past the grimacing moustachioed man in pink.
By now the GC race was well and truly on. And as the road steepened once again on the home straight – and as Roglic powered away from Mas to take the victory, with Miguel Angel Lopez coming third – a rider in the background could be seen zigzagging himself up the hill, bereft, seemingly stuck in the wrong gear and doing anything he could to make the incline a touch more forgiving.
Cue Carlton Kirby with one of his trademark on-the-spot pieces of inspired commentary:
“My goodness. What a day. And the man who is weaving – weaving a whole tapestry of hurt – is Magnus Cort. There he is, the man who nearly got there. Big heart. Big day.”
Given the effort he made, it was no surprise to see how Cort struggled to make it to the line. Quite frankly, it’s astonishing his deficit wasn’t considerably more than 49 seconds, given everything he’d done over the previous 105km. The 28-year-old will have at least taken consolation from the fact that, six days earlier, he did hold out on similar gradients and come between the finish line and the best rider in this race.
“I did what I could do,” Cort later admitted. “I took the chance even though we never had much time. I’m just happy to be out there and giving it a good crack.”
Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark and Team EF Education - Nippo crosses the finishing line during the 76th Tour of Spain 2021, Stage 11 a 133,6km stage from Antequera to Valdepeñas de Jaén
Image credit: Getty Images
As for Roglic, any fears that his crash on Tuesday may prove a turning point in this Vuelta seemed to have been rubbished as he consolidated his vice-like grip on this race – despite Christian Odd Eiking and Guillaume Martin holding on to keep the top two spots on the current GC.
There was really only going to be one winner on such a ramped finale where the likes of Igor Anton, Joaquim Rodriguez and Dani Moreno had all triumphed in the past. Roglic is a phenomenon in the uphill sprint – and this time he was even given the red-carpet treatment by his Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss, who led him out with aplomb.
Still, you have to hand it to Mas for pushing his man to the very end – especially after Roglic inadvertently closed the doors on his Spanish rival and almost sent him into the barriers as the road narrowed ahead of the steepest section of the climb.
After this flashpoint the two rivals came shoulder to shoulder and appeared to have a heated discussion. Mas then repeatedly looked over his shoulder as if urging Roglic to take a pull on the flatter segment as they closed in on Cort. A strange tactic given the Slovenian’s strengths – but that’s taking nothing away from Mas, who underlined once again that he remains the best rider behind the defending champion in this race.
The two riders buried the hatched and rode arm in arm after the finish. Just 35 seconds separate the pair at this halfway point in the Vuelta – and with Movistar’s Lopez also in the mix a further minute back, it’s going to be fascinating to see how Jumbo-Visma and their leader deal with the in-form duo.