It might not be a traditional hotbed of cycling but there must be something in the water in Slovenia.
Primoz Roglic – a former ski jumper you know! – took control of the red jersey after a blistering time trial in Pau while his compatriot Tadej Pogacar continued to show why he’s one of the hottest talents in the World Tour right now with another stage win and a move onto the podium overall.
Quite what will happen after today’s rest day is anyone’s guess but here’s a quick recap of week two…
Stage 10 – Jurançon > Pau – 36.2km – ITT
Everyone could probably guess the outcome of this stage before the first rider rolled down the ramp but the sheer dominance of Roglic’s performance was perhaps a bit of a surprise.
The Jumbo-Visma man sailed into the red jersey, leapfrogging Nairo Quintana who had a nightmare day on the bike, losing more than three minutes to Roglic and falling out of the GC top three.Embed from Getty Images
His teammate – and world champion – Alejandro Valverde fared better, finishing 13th on the stage and moving up to second overall.
Another big loser was Astana’s Miguel Angel Lopez who was passed by Roglic in the final 500m, losing more than two minutes.
Roglic always looked the best bet, especially after setting the best time on both intermediate checkpoints.Embed from Getty Images
New Zealand time trial champion Patrick Bevan produced a solid ride to finish second while Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Remi Cavagna settled for third.
Stage 11 – Saint Palais > Urdax-Dantxarinea – 180km
It was a day for the breakaway and the day for a local boy riding on a local team as Mikel Iturria took his first pro win on his home roads.
The Euskadi-Murias rider jumped away from the break with 25km to go and managed to hold off the chasing pack to cross the line, arms aloft, with just six seconds to spare.Embed from Getty Images
The chasers may have had a chance of catching Iturria had they got their house in order but with a lack of cohesion and riders jumping off the front every few kilometres, it seemed always destined to fail.
The crowds, as expected, were out in full voice as expected as the race made its way from France into the basque country with the GC contenders happy to take it easy.Embed from Getty Images
In fact, the group containing the race favourites didn’t roll in until more than 18 minutes behind Iturria.
Stage 12 – Circuito de Navarra > Bilbao – 174.4km
The second day in the Basque Country again saw a break succeed but this time it wasn’t a relative unknown to grab the glory, it was someone well used to the feeling.
Deceuninck Quick-Step’s Philippe Gilbert showed himself to be the strongest in Bilbao to claim his 10th Grand Tour victory.Embed from Getty Images
The Paris-Roubaix winner dropped his fellow breakaway riders on the last of the three climbs going into the city and then managed to hold off a pair of chasers in dramatic fashion to finish three seconds up.
It wasn’t a straight forward day of racing by any stretch and it took over half of the stage for the breakaway to stick.
The climbs reduced the bunch significantly and Gilbert had teammate Tim Declercq to thank for putting him in the winning position, the Belgian engine pulled back Felix Grosschartner and Tsgabu Grmay as the break got ready to hit the final climb.Embed from Getty Images
The rest was up to Gilbert and when he decided to go on the steepest part of the Alto de Arraiz only Alexander Aranburu (Caja Rural) and Fernando Barceló (Euskadi-Murias) could match his acceleration although the pro-Conti pair were left to fight it out for second place after just falling short in the home straight.
Stage 13 – Bilbao > Los Machucos Monumento Vaca Pasiega – 166.4km
It really was Slovenia’s day on the ride up to Los Muchucos as Pogacar rode to a memorable stage win, closely followed by his compatriot Roglic who extended his lead in the race for the red jersey.
Before things properly go underway, there was the surreal sight of the peloton rolling gently around the pitch at Athletic Bilbao’s San Memés Stadium.
A couple of the riders even stopped for an impromptu penalty shoot out on the pitch itself!Embed from Getty Images
Roglic blew the race apart with two attacks in the last 3km, shedding first Miguel Ángel López and Quintana before dropping Valverde.
Only Pogacar could keep pace with the race leader and together the pair worked to extend their advantage over the chasing pack which also included AG2R’s Pierre Latour who had spent the day in the break.
It was a remarkable show of strength from Roglic and it put his three rivals firmly in their place – Valverde and Quintana rolled in 27 seconds down and López lost over a minute.
Lopez’s Astana team had tried a move themselves as the race hit the climbs and when that fizzled out, it was Quintana’s turn to pounce.Embed from Getty Images
But that proved to be a lost cause and he was quickly swallowed up by the GC group who made light work of him.
Pogacar’s win not only lifted him onto the podium overall but also saw him take the white young rider jersey off the shoulder of Lopez.
Stage 14 – San Vicente de la Barquera > Oviedo – 188km
The sprinters have had to be patient this year with the 2019 edition of the Vuelta not offering up much for the fast men.
And Sam Bennett didn’t miss his chance to make up for lost time, storming to his second victory of the race in Oviedo.Embed from Getty Images
Lotto Soudal’s Tosh Van Der Sande jumped from the bunch with 500m to go and when Max Richeze followed, Bennett did likewise, latching onto the Argentine’s wheel.
A crash behind which wiped out most of the peloton meant Bennett’s run to the line was relatively simple once he’d got around Richeze and Van Der Sande who finished second and third.
A number of big names came down in the crash including Valverde and Pogacar although neither was badly injured.Embed from Getty Images
As is customary inside the last 3km, everyone was handed the same time meaning there was no change in the GC.
Stage 15 – Tineo > Santuario del Acebo – 154.4km
With Roglic sitting pretty at the top of the GC standings it was time for one of his young teammates to grab a bit of the glory on stage 15.
Sepp Kuss, who’s worked tirelessly this Vuelta to protect his leader, was given the green light to get himself into a break and head off in search of a maiden Grand Tour victory.Embed from Getty Images
He did just that, clipping off the front on the last climb and building up a big enough margin to hold off the late challenge of Ineos’ Tao Geoghegan Hart and Katusha’s Ruben Guerreiro.
The former development level teammates probably should have worked better to try and catch the young American rouleur but in the end, their squabbling boiled over after the finish, probably due to the frustration of finishing second and third.Embed from Getty Images
Movistar tried their best to unnerve Roglic with an attack from Valverde inside the last 6km but the Slovenian matched him and the pair put more time into their fading rivals, Quintana and Lopez.
Lopez will still retain hope of making the podium but Quintana needs a minor miracle after slipping to more than five minutes down on Roglic.
Stage 16 – Pravia > Alto de La Cubilla. Lena – 144.4km
After his misfortune at the Tour – in which he crashed out on the corresponding stage – there won’t have been many fans who weren’t delighted to see Jakob Fuglsang snatch a first Grand Tour win.
The Dane climbed through the mist on the final climb after first getting into the day’s breakaway and then dragging a select bunch clear before leaving them for dust as the Vuelta headed up the Alto de la Cubilla for the first time in its history.Embed from Getty Images
Another strong ride for Geoghegan Hart saw the Londoner again snatch a podium place; he finished second 22 seconds in arrears with Fuglsang’s Astana teammate Luis Leon Sanchez a further eight seconds back.
A strong ride from another young Brit, Deceuninck Quick-Steps’s James Knox so him not only finish fourth but jump up the overall classification to 11th.
The young Cumbrian must surely now have an eye on a top ten finish…
Main image by Luis Angel Gomez, courtesy of ASO.