One big mountain stage is all that separates Primoz Roglic from a second consecutive victory at the Vuelta a España. For the second year in a row, it will come with a big assist from Durango’s Sepp Kuss.
After safe finishes on a couple of sprint stages Wednesday and Thursday, it was back to the mountains Friday for two categorized climbs before a sprint finish into Ciudad Rodrigo after a 100.5-mile stage.
Armed with plenty of help from Team Jumbo-Visma support riders, including Kuss, Roglic was set up for the final mass sprint Friday. He would finish second behind EF Pro Cycling rider Magnus Cort of Denmark, who won in 4 hours, 4 minutes, 35 seconds.
Roglic earned a six-second time bonus for his second-place finish, and that gave him an extra six seconds in the overall lead ahead of Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz of the INEOS Grenadiers team. The Slovenian now has a 45-second advantage ahead of Carapaz and 53 seconds on Great Britain’s Hugh Carthy heading into the final two stages with Saturday’s stage the only chance for his rivals to come back before Sunday’s victory ride to Madrid to close the 18-stage Spanish Vuelta.
Roglic has shown his ability to sprint in this Vuelta on top of his big time trial victory and some impressive climbs with Kuss aiding him on the toughest ascents. He has won four stages of the race.
“I really would have liked to win a fifth stage,” Roglic said in a Team Jumbo-Visma news release after Friday’s Stage 16. “But Cort was the best today. I am happy with the bonus seconds. So all in all, it is still a good day for us. When I saw that the sprinters got dropped on the last climb, I knew that it was possible to go for another stage win. So, I decided to go for it. As a leader in the points classification, you have to be able to sprint a little bit, right?”
Kuss finished Friday’s stage in 15th and was credited with the same finishing time as the stage winner. He remained 14th in the overall standings, 14:22 behind Roglic. Kuss lost some time on Stage 14 when he finished 4:16 behind the stage winner, Tim Wellens. Thursday was a true mental and physical test in cold temperatures for 143.5 miles. But Kuss rode confidently alongside Roglic as they finished 49th and 50th, respectively, without losing any time on a stage that took more than six hours.
The two Jumbo-Visma stars will have one final test Saturday. Stage 17 is nearly 111 miles with six categorized climbs, including an early Category 1 and a beyond categorized climb of Alto de la Covatilla for a summit finish. Sunday’s Stage 18 is a flat victory ride into Madrid.
Kuss, who sacrificed the chance at an individual stage win last Sunday on to famed Alto de l’Angrilu to help Roglic on Stage 12, likely will look to protect Roglic’s red jersey again Saturday. It would be a strong end to the Grand Tour season for team Jumbo-Visma after Roglic finished second at the Tour de France after leading much of the race only to lose the yellow jersey on the penultimate stage, a time trial.
“This stage will not lie,” Roglic said of Saturday’s Stage 17. “It’s the decisive stage for the GC, so I certainly expect attacks from Ineos, Movistar and Carthy. It’s not going to be an easy stage to control, but the team has shown to be very strong. We have to keep doing what we’ve been doing the whole Vuelta and, hopefully, I have good legs to keep the red jersey.”