On paper, it looked simple. Primož Roglič claimed another hugely-prestigious stage victory at the Vuelta a España on Wednesday as Jumbo-Visma turned in yet one more remarkable display of team strength to sweep both the top three places on the Angliru and boost their collective grip on the top three places overall.
But as Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard’s joint attack saw them drop race leader and teammate Sepp Kuss and squeeze down the American’s overall advantage in the process, suddenly it got a lot more complicated. In a nutshell, after Vingegaard’s win 24 hours earlier and now Roglič’s on the Angliru, the questions regarding the Jumbo-Visma Vuelta a España juggernaut, and which of the triumvirate of leaders is actually in the driving seat when it comes to going for overall victory in Madrid, are steadily intensifying.
Roglič and Vingegaard both expressed their hopes, post-stage, that Kuss wins the Vuelta. But Roglič also recognised he has his own ambitions for triumph in Madrid a fourth time. Squaring that particular circle can only be anything but straightforward. Particularly as after losing time to his teammates for two straight days, Kuss’ grip on the overall now hangs by the slenderest of threads, with Vingegaard a mere eight seconds behind and Roglič at 1:08.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first question Roglič faced in his winner’s press conference was not concerning how he has now triumphed on two of Spain’s toughest climbs, the Lagos de Covadonga in 2021 and the Angliru in 2023, but who he would bet on to win the Vuelta outright.
“I’d wish it was me,” Roglič answered, before instantly qualifying that with the comment, “but at the moment Sepp is in the red, and I wish him to finish in red and it’s also my responsibility to do my best.
“At the end, the road will tell who wins this year,” he added. “When it’s so steep, it’s man on man, so I just did my best and we see what it means. All three of us are together and we just keep fighting. When Sepp was dropped, it’s a bit of a strange feeling, but in this race we all have the freedom to go for it.”
What ‘everyone can do their best’ meant on the Angliru in real terms was that when Roglič made a steady, drawn-out acceleration 2.8 kilometres from the line, only Vingegaard was able to follow, and an isolated Kuss struggled.
Kuss then briefly regained contact with the two ahead after working with Bahrain Victorious’ Mikel Landa, only to fall behind again…