In 2012, Primož Roglič made the decision to switch from ski jumping to road cycling. In 2016 he signed for LottoNL–Jumbo, who are now Team Jumbo–Visma. With 3 Grand Tours to his name, including 4ᵗʰ place on GC at the 2018 Tour de France, he wore the Maglia Rosa for 6 stages of the 2019 Giro d’Italia, but finished 3ʳᵈ with a lack of support at key moments from his team. The 2019 Vuelta a España saw him win his first ever Grand Tour, taking the red jersey in the Stage 10 Time Trial and holding it to the finish in Madrid.
While Roglič is obviously one of the big winners from from the race (both literally and figuratively), he is far from the only one who can come away and consider themselves a winner at this year’s Vuelta. Today, I will be looking at some of the others who should be feeling very happy looking back at the race, along with a few who may have been left feeling otherwise.
Team Jumbo–Visma: Maybe I am being critical, but I felt that Roglič was really let down by his team at the Giro. Losing Steven Kruijswijk and Tony Martin during the race could have proved costly but Roglič’s quality, a great team effort and no small amount of luck meant that they were able to keep their man top of the General Classification. Roglič has confirmed himself as one of the top GC riders in the peloton going forward, and with Tom Dumoulin joining from Sunweb and Kruijswijk (who had finished in the top 5 on GC in his previous 3 Grand Tours) still on the books, this is a team looking for more Grand Tour victories. Throw in a road captain of Tony Martin’s quality and a montain domestique as strong as Sepp Kuss (who was allowed to get in the break and win Stage 15) and this team is building into a legitimate contender against Team Ineos.
Tadej Pogačar: At just 20 years old at the time of the race and riding in his first Grand Tour, the Slovenian was the great find of the 2019 Vuelta. Able to hold his own among his more experienced riders, he did such a great job about making his attacks stick and finished with 3 stage victories, a place on the GC podium and victory in the Young Rider classification. He proved himself one of the better GC riders in the Individual Time Trial on Stage 10, finishing 1’29” behind his compatriot Primož Roglič despite requiring a bike change during the stage. It’s early days, but it looks like this kid is a future champion.
Marc Soler: He may have been the third Movistar rider on GC, but I would argue that he had a better Grand Tour than Nairo Quintana. He looked good value for the stage win on Stage 9 before being called back to help the Colombian and finished with a better time on the Stage 10 Time Trial than all GC contenders other than Roglič. With Alejandro Valverde nearing 40 years old and Mikel Landa, Richard Carapaz & Nairo Quintana all leaving Movistar, there is every chance that he could be the team leader next season.
Brit Boys: Tao Geoghegan Hart was given a chance to be co-leader for Team Ineos but quickly found himself completely and utterly out of GC contention. The first half of the race left me feeling that he was going to end up on the list of losers, but he came alive and showed his quality with some great riding in the breaks during the mountain stages of the last week. Ineos have enough other options to lead the team, but don’t be surprised to see Geoghegan Hart to become a key mountain domestique. James Knox also looked comfortably at home in the well-oiled Deceuninck–Quick-Step machine. Riding well to keep his teammates in with a shout of competing on sprint stages, he looked good in the mountains when many others began to drop away. He reached the heights of 8ᵗʰ place on GC, before injuries picked up in the Stage 19 crash hampered him and saw him finish just outside the top 10.
Sprint Stars: The 2019 Vuelta was very much about the GC riders and the breakaways, but there were still some stages where the sprinters were able to show their quality. Sam Bennett of Bora–Hansgrohe and Deceuninck–Quick-Step’s Fabio Jakobsen were the pick of the bunch with 2 stage victories apiece, while it was only good teamwork from Jakobsen’s teammates that saw Bennett miss out on Stage 17 as he was forced to jump too early to pull back Zdeněk Štybar, allowing Philippe Gilbert to take the stage victory. With Elia Viviani leaving for Cofidis, it looks like Jakobsen is in prime position to be the team’s main sprinter, while Bennett is surely going to have teams interested when he is next available.
Fernando Gaviria: I’ve been a fan of Gaviria since his Deceuninck–Quick-Step days but he was anonymous in this race. The Colombian finished 3ʳᵈ on Stage 4 and never again made it into the top 10 on a stage, to the point that I was shocked to realise he was still in the race on the final stage. It looks like he has some serious work to do on his climbing to keep competitive in a 3-week race.
Fabio Aru: The Italian won the Vuelta back in 2015 and at 29 years old should be coming into his prime, but has only finished in the top 5 on GC in 1 of his 7 Grand Tours since then. He didn’t finish this race, but even before he abandoned he was being thoroughly overshadowed by his teammate Tadej Pogačar.
Movistar: With Nairo Quintana, Richard Carapaz & Mikel Landa about to leave and Alejandro Valverde nearing 40, it looks like Movistar’s competitiveness could be coming to an end. With the chance of a GC victory given Valverde’s form, it really felt like the team shot themselves in the foot with their tactics. I was critical of Quintana following the Tour de France and the same applies here, yet the team still sacrifice resources towards him rather than focusing on Valverde. Marc Soler looked set to win Stage 9 at his (and the team’s) home Grand Tour, yet they sacrificed him to try getting the stage win for Quintana, who could barely keep with him. With Quintana the only one of the GC contenders to get in the right side of the split during Stage 17’s crosswinds, the chance was there for Quinatana to possibly take the GC, but instead of sitting on in the 2ⁿᵈ group, Valverde and the teammates with him upped the pace of the group containing all the other GC contenders. Perhaps it was an attempt to dispose of their domestiques (it worked for Jumbo–Visma, but not Astana) but enough stayed in the group to stop the gap from getting too large and Roglič kept the red jersey, while Quintana gave up all the time he made up over the next few stages.