Roglic rules the Vuelta in a first for Slovenia

MADRID (AFP) – Taciturn Primoz Roglic was overlooked by his team for the Tour de France but he had the last word when avoiding any final day mishap on the Vuelta a Espana’s ceremonial ride into Madrid last Sunday to become the first Slovenian to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tours.

The former ski jump champion had assured victory last Saturday, only having to complete the 21st stage for the biggest success of his career.

Veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde was second overall, two minutes and 16 seconds behind, with Roglic’s compatriot Tadej Pogacar in third, a further 22 seconds away.

The three-week race concluded in a sprint on the Paseo del Prado in the heart of the Spanish capital won by Fabio Jakobsen.

Roglic crossed the line arm in arm with his teammates, climbing the podium draped in his national flag, his habitual implacable features replaced by a broad grin.

“I don’t have much to say,” the man who prefers to let his legs rather than his mouth do the talking confessed to the crowd at the Plaza de Cibeles.

“Thanks to my family for their support and thanks to all the people connected with this huge achievement.

“See you at other races.”

Fourth in last year’s Tour de France and third in this year’s Giro d’Italia, Roglic had lined up as one of the favourites to succeed absent defending champion Simon Yates and he did not disappoint.

A member of Slovenia’s 2007 junior world ski jump champion team had seized control of the overall standings by pulverising his rivals on the individual time-trial in stage 10.

Surrounded by a powerful Jumbo team, Roglic then systematically demoralised pretenders on the mountains, proving unshakeable in the climbing stages.

Few victories come without a major scare and Roglic received one when arch rival Nairo Quintana escaped in a crosswind last Tuesday and came close to grabbing the lead.

But he survived and lined up for the traditional last day victory parade with a lead of over two and a half minutes from Valverde.

Jumbo-Visma provided Roglic with a solid platform from which to take his victory, surrounding their leader with a strong team after he failed to close out the Giro d’Italia in May.

The victory emulates the performance of Yates in 2018, who had looked set to win the Giro before wilting, and then redeeming his reputation by winning the Vuelta.

“It’s just a great feeling to win this race,” he added, “and with fans from Slovenia here too”.