VUELTA’21 BREAKDOWN #1: Rojo Roglič Reigns From the Start

Two Day Vuelta Takeaways

VUELTA BREAKDOWN: Two days into la Vuelta a España and we have more than enough facts and speculation for ‘Ten Takeaways’ from Spencer Martin. Primoz Roglič looks dominant already, but we have three weeks remaining and a lot of hills to climb…

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A strong show from Primoz Roglič

The Vuelta a España’s opening weekend featured a brief, seven-kilometer time trial on Saturday, and a routine bunch sprint on Sunday, but still managed to deliver multiple interesting storylines, surprisingly large gaps in the general classification, and perhaps most importantly, highlighted potential cracks in rider fitness and team strategy that will almost certainly come into play further down the line.


Stunning setting for stage 1

The explosive eight-minute time trial on stage 1 started with the dramatic sight of the riders rolling down the entrance to the ancient Burgos Cathedral and finished with an exclamation point from the winner of the last two editions, Primoz Roglič. Roglič wasted no time letting his rivals know that while he crashed out of the Tour de France back in July, that he is back to his best by winning the stage and taking the race’s first leader’s jersey (maillot Rojo). Stage 2 produced a win for eternal Tour de France runner-up Jasper Philipsen, with Fabio Jakobsen, who suffered a horrific crash just a year ago at the Tour of Poland, coming in second. The stage also managed to produce some GC drama due to a crash with 4-kilometer remaining that caught up major GC contenders like Adam Yates, Jack Haig, and Hugh Carthy, while the race leader Primoz Roglič would ride to the finish line unscathed to extend his lead over some of his biggest GC rivals.


Three weeks of red for Roglič?

Roglič’s time gains over the first two stages mean that some of his biggest rivals will leave the race’s first weekend around a minute behind one of the best stage racers in the peloton and that their quest to unseat the two-time reigning champion is now significantly harder than it was at the start of the weekend.

Filtered GC Standings After Stage 2:
Roglic +0
Vlasov +14
Kuss +15
Mas +18
Lopez +21
Carapaz +25
Bernal +27
Landa +39
Yates +51
Haig +59
Carthy +1’11

Ten Takeaways:
1) Roglič has very clearly recovered from his crash on stage 3 of the Tour de France. He looked every bit of his dominant self and power almost seemed to be oozing off him as he scorched the 7km-long course. The time gaps might not jump off the page, but over such a short course, these are significant. Roglič took almost a second per kilometer on the second-place finisher, which is almost unheard of, and these short efforts at the beginning of a Grand Tour can show cracks in the form of GC riders that will open up bigger gaps later in the race.

  • Roglič’s win, of course, isn’t completely shocking since he just won the Olympic time trial by over a minute, but it does tell us he will be incredibly difficult to beat on his quest for his third-straight overall Vuelta victory.


Maybe not a surprise – Olympic champion

2) If we start to probe the TT time split data a little bit, we can see that Roglič didn’t pull out his winning margin on the climb, but on the second half of the course, which featured a fairly technical descent.

  • The bad news for his GC competition is that none of them were faster than him on the climb, and his own teammate, Sepp Kuss, was the only pseudo-serious GC contender to beat him on the first half of the course. In fact, most of the GC contenders were absolutely blown out by Roglič, on both the climb and the descent. I’ve listed the time each major GC contender lost to Roglič over the entire course.

Seconds Lost Per Kilometer to Roglič:
Landa: 5.6s per km
Carthy: 4.8s per km
Bernal: 3.9s per km
Carapaz: 3.6s per km
A. Yates: 2.9s per km
Mas: 2.6s per km

  • These time gaps are a big deal, not just for the raw time Roglič takes, but what it could mean when we hit harder stages in the near future, and the 33-kilometer TT on the final stage. For example, if he put the same time per kilometer on the other favorites over 33kms, he would take close to three minutes on Hugh Carthy and close to 1.5 minutes on Enric Mas, who was one of the closest GC riders to Roglič.


No problems for Roglič on stage 2

3) Roglič held the race lead through stage 2, was very lucky to avoid the crash with 4km-to-go and actually increased his lead significantly to two of his biggest GC rivals (Carthy and Yates), but it would be a good idea for him to attempt to gift the jersey to a rider like Alex Aranburu so he and his Jumbo team don’t have to defend the lead for a full three weeks.

  • It would be a nightmare for his Jumbo team to have to defend this lead line to line, so gifting the lead away would take pressure off and force a team like Astana to control the race until we get back to the mountains on stage 9.
  • However, this only makes sense if he can do this without sacrificing a chance to take time on his GC rivals.
  • This means a rider close in the GC like Aranburu would have to take the time from a breakaway, since Roglič wouldn’t sit up and lose a chance to take time via a split or finishing time bonus.


Stage 2 crash delayed many – But not Roglič

4) The crash with 4km-to-go on stage 2 happened fairly close to the front of the pack, which shows that as a GC contender, you have to be as close to the front as possible.

  • Major GC contenders like Adam Yates, Jack Haig, and Hugh Carthy were caught up and lost time.
  • Some fans/pundits will cry foul and say this is unfair, but it is simply all part of the game. Flat stages are still part of the race and one of the reasons it is so difficult to win grand tours are these flat stages.
  • Certain riders like Carthy also seem to lose time on these flat stages, which shows it isn’t simply bad luck.


A near winning ride from Alex Aranburu

5) This is somewhat of a disaster since Carthy was already nursing time losses due to his disappointing opening TT.

  • He now sits 1’11 behind Roglič after just two days of racing.


The best stage 1 TT ride from Ineos was by Adam Yates

6) Ineos’ bad opening weekend continues and their Vuelta appears to be starting just as their Tour ended; with multiple GC leaders but able to truly challenge for the overall win.

  • Adam Yates, their best rider in the TT, loses time after being stuck behind the crash.
  • This means that in addition to Carapaz’s and Bernal’s disappointing opening TTs, their best rider from the TT is now close to a minute down on Roglič after the opening weekend. Roglič is hard enough to beat when you start on level ground, but you certainly don’t want to spot him free time at the beginning of a grand tour.


Not a good TT show from Carapaz

7) I continue to be confused by Ineos’ tactics and goals for this race. Directly after the crash, they had riders attacking at the front of the peloton in an attempt to split the remaining bunch and bury the GC riders who were stuck behind the crash. The only problem with this is that their own rider, Adam Yates, was stuck behind.

  • So, not only did they fail to distance Roglič, they put time into their own rider.
  • Also, while they have three, if not four, riders all here to ride for their own GC chances, Tom Pidcock also seems to be doing his own thing. After struggling through the short opening TT yesterday, he sat up and was dropped coming into the final few kilometers today. Unfortunately, this was just when his team needed as much help as possible.
  • Yates’ being distanced because he wasn’t riding with his team at the front when the crash occurred and then losing even more time due to his own team drilling it at the front makes me wonder about the quality of communication and focus within the team’s in-race management personnel.


Good and bad weekend for Adam Yates

8) While Yates was separated from his team when he was stuck behind the crash, Roglič and his entire Jumbo team were all sitting in a surprisingly poor position when the crash inside the final 4km occurred on stage 2.

  • I’m not sure what to attribute this to, since you’d imagine they would want to overcompensate and stay right at the front towards the end of stages since Roglič’s Tour was derailed by a crash late on stage 3.
  • But this is something to keep an eye on as the race progresses. They nearly lost the race today due to a lapse of focus, and if they keep it up, they could be caught out again.


A fair ride by Mas in the TT

9) Both Enric Mas and Aleksandr Vlasov put in great rides in the stage 1 TT and avoided losing time on stage 2. This could be the foundation for potential podium challenges for both riders.

  • It is important for both Mas and Vlasov to avoid losing time to Roglič on stages like we had this weekend since they both lack the ability to put large chunks of time into the best riders in the mountains, so days like today, where he takes time on riders like Bernal, Carapaz, Landa, are huge for him.


Up and down form from Landa

10) Bahrain-Victorious, who I liked coming into this race, had one of the worst weekends out of any team in the race.

  • Mikel Landa lost close to six seconds per kilometer to Roglič on stage 1, which is almost incomprehensibly bad. This, combined with his up-and-down performances over the last two weeks, it seems like his form isn’t 100% back since his crash at the Giro.
  • Mark Padun, who I thought could be an interesting option for Bahrain in the GC, had an even worse TT, and combined with his time lost in the crash on stage 2, means he will start stage 3 1’19 behind Roglič after just 170-kilometers of racing.


We are going to see this a few times in Spain


# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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