Vuelta a Espana 2019
The 29-year-old became the first Slovenian rider to win one of cycling’s three Grand Tours – 10 years after Slovenia’s first stage win on a Grand Tour (Borut Bozic, 2009 Vuelta a Espana) and 13 years after the first Slovenian to lead a Grand Tour (Janez Brajkovic, 2006 Vuelta a Espana).
Sunday’s final stage – a largely processional 106.6km jaunt into the Spanish capital – was won by Dutch champion Fabio Jakobsen, who out-kicked the Irish champion Sam Bennett to notch his second win of the race and a fifth for his clinical Deceuninck-QuickStep team.
But all eyes were on Roglic, who delivered on his potential with a breakthrough win after a near-flawless three weeks of racing in Spain.
In only his fifth Grand Tour and first Vuelta appearance, Roglic, who came to the sport just six years ago after a previous career as a ski-jumper, was joined on the final podium by both the oldest and youngest riders in the race.
Roglic beat Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 2’16” and fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) by 2’38”, with Colombian duo Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) completing the final top five.
After finishing fourth in the 2018 Tour de France and third this May in the 2019 Giro d’Italia, Roglic came of age over three dramatic weeks in Spain – emphatically winning the Stage 10 individual time trial in the French city of Pau to take over the red jersey, which he held until the end. His consistency also earned Roglic the green points jersey ahead of compatriot Pogacar and Bennett.
Roglic’s first Grand Tour victory was also a first for his Dutch Jumbo-Visma team – and came after hardly the most auspicious of starts: five of the team’s eight-man squad crashed on a wet corner in the opening TTT in Benidorm, with key mountain lieutenant Steven Kruijswijk abandoning three days later.
The team, who will be strengthened with the arrival of Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro d’Italia champion, in 2020, also tasted success through the American Sepp Kuss in Stage 15, although ended with just six riders after the German Tony Martin was forced out after a bad fall in Stage 19.
In his 26th Grand Tour and 13th appearance in the Vuelta, the 39-year-old world champion Valverde notched his ninth finish on a Grand Tour podium, one decade after his victory in the 2009 Vuelta. The first time Valverde was on a Grand Tour podium, in 2005, Pogacar was just five years old.
For his part, Pogacar – who won three key mountain stages to rise to third place and top the white jersey youth classification – made an almighty impact in his debut Grand Tour, riding into Madrid as part of a Slovenian sandwich on the podium still five days shy of his 21st birthday.
Pogacar’s hat-trick of swashbuckling solo wins was a timely reminder that the new generation of cycling talent stretches far beyond the Tour champion Egan Bernal and the seemingly irrepressible Lowlanders Mathieu van der Poel and Remco Evenepoel.
Pogacar became the third rider in history under the age of 21 to win three stages of a single Grand Tour and the first since Giuseppe Sarroni in the 1978 Giro d’Italia.
The king of the mountains classification was won by Frenchman Geoffrey Bouchard of Ag2R-La Mondiale – a rider who was a mere trainee working part-time in Decathalon a year earlier.
In his maiden Grand Tour, Bouchard put in a string of strong performances in the mountains to wrest the polka dot jersey from Angel Madrazo’s shoulders in Stage 16. The 27-year-old eventually finished 32 points clear of the Spaniard Burgos-BH Stage 5 winner to become the 15th rider in history to top the KoM classification on his debut – and first since Omar Fraile in 2015.
Astana’s Lopez, who wore the red jersey on three separate occasions in the opening week, was named the most combative rider of the race.
With Spaniard Marc Soler joining Valverde and Quintana in the top 10, Movistar topped the team classification to complete a clean-sweep of awards across all three Grand Tours for only the second time in history.
While Movistar topped the standings, the race was set alight by the Belgian Deceuninck-QuickStep team, who capped off a fine Vuelta with a fifth win as the sun set on the streets of the Spanish capital on Sunday evening.
After nine laps of the city centre course, a bunch sprint played out once plucky breakaway duo Dani Martinez (EF Education First) and Diego Rubio (Burgos-BH) were reeled in with 7km remaining.
The final sprint was launched by the Belgian Edward Theuns (Trek-Segafredo) but it was 23-year-old Jakobsen – having benefitted from an excellent lead out by his QuickStep teammates Remi Cavagna, Zdenek Stybar and Max Richeze – who powered clear.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Bennett, a double stage winner and twice runner-up, had his rival’s wheel but could not find the requisite speed to reel in debutant Jakobsen, who matched teammate’s Philippe Gilbert’s brace of wins, making it five along with Cavagna’s scalp in Stage 19.
Poland’s Szymon Sajnok (CCC Team) took third place in the final stage ahead of Spain’s Jon Aberasturi (Caja Rural-Seguros RGA) and Norway’s Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data).
The 74th edition of La Vuelta was also a race for the outsiders, with three of the four wildcard teams tasting success – and in bucketloads.
Cofidis won Stage 6 through Spaniard Jesus Herrada (and had Frenchman Nicolas Edet in red for a day), Burgos-BH won Stage 5 through Madrazo (and had the bespectacled Spaniard in polka dots for two weeks), and Euskadi-Murias memorably won Stage 11 in the Basque Country through local lad Mikel Iturria.
Burgos-BH also succeeded in an accepted marriage proposal when their 28-year-old rider Jesus Ezquerra metaphorically went down on one knee during the processional part of Sunday’s final stage, as the peloton made its way towards Madrid.
Of the wildcard teams, only Caja Rural-Seguros RGA failed to get on the scoresheet – although they went close with two runner-up spots for the Astana-bound Alex Aranburu and a third for Jonathan Lastra.
For all their excellence in the Tour de France – where Bernal and Welshman Geraint Thomas secured a famous one-two – Team Ineos struggled on the roads of Spain, with co-leaders Tao Geoghegan Hart and Wout Poels both falling short in the GC battle.
While Briton Geoghegan Hart twice came close to winning a stage – finishing third and second in successive mountaintop finishes in the final week – the British team ultimately ended empty handed.
Another British youngster, James Knox of Deceuninck-QuickStep, rode a spirited race but missed out on a top 10 finish by 35 seconds after crashing badly two stages from Madrid.
But Norway’s Carl Fredrik Hagen arguably put in the most surprising performance, the 27-year-old for Lotto Soudal capping a fine Grand Tour debut with a solid eighth place overall.