Into the red
The 2021 Vuelta a España started with a 7-km time trial in the heart of Burgos. Primož Roglič rolled down the start ramp in front of the city’s cathedral on a brand-new Cervélo. Just a few weeks earlier, he had achieved his boyhood, ski-jumper’s dream by winning the Olympic gold medal at the time trial in Tokyo. To celebrate, Cervélo had built him a gold-accented P5 with an Olympic-ring motif and DURA-ACE Di2. In Burgos, Roglič showed that he had lost no form. A lesser rider might have rested on his laurels, but Roglič blasted around the short, tight circuit, going flat out up the climb to Burgos Castle before screaming back down into the city centre. No one was faster. At the end of the day, Roglič was all smiles in the maillot rojo.
The eleventh stage of the Vuelta finished on a wall. After 132 and a half kilometres of suffering under a blazing sun, as the race crossed the hilly countryside of Andalusia, the riders entered Valdepeñas de Jaén and saw the road rear up. The final climb soared through the narrow streets of the city, with pitches well over 25%. At the foot of the climb, a lone breakaway was still in front. Then, Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma teammate Sepp Kuss took over. Only a few GC contenders were left when Roglič took off on the final ramp and put seconds into all of them in a couple of hundred metres. His attack was unmatchable.
The Lagos de Covadonga is one of the Vuelta’s most iconic climbs. It rolls and swoops up to a beautiful lake, nestled high in the Picos de Europa. That’s where Stage 17 of the Vuelta would finish. First, the peloton would have to cross three mountain passes and navigate lurching descents in the pouring rain. When Egan Bernal launched a Hail Mary attack with 61 kilometres to go, Primoz Roglič could have played it safe and relied on his teammates to keep his Colombian rival in check. Instead, he took off up the road with him. The two swapped turns in front, undaunted by the driving storm. On the final climb, Roglič rode away from Bernal and crossed the finish line alone. He was back in the red jersey. He had earned it in the most beautiful way he could.
Primož Roglič had all but won the maillot rojo before the start of the Vuelta’s final time trial. With more than two and a half minutes on his nearest general-classification rival, he could have cruised around Santiago de Compostela and soaked in the cheers of the Spanish crowds. But Roglič is a champion. No risk, no glory. Back on his gold Cervélo with a 33-kilometre test ahead of him and the red jersey on his shoulders, he scorched around the course to win the stage and add another two minutes to his overall lead. Then, he had a beer with his Jumbo-Visma teammates. He had won his third Vuelta a España in three years—in style.