With five stages of this year’s Vuelta a Espana remaining, defending champion Primoz Roglic is in pole position to reclaim his crown after winning Tuesday’s pivotal time-trial.
Roglic went into stage 13 trailing Ineos Grenadiers rider Richard Carapaz by ten seconds but emerged from it with a 39-second buffer of his own.
And with just one pure mountain stage left to negotiate before the peloton ride into Madrid on Sunday, Roglic’s destiny is in his own hands.
However, as the Slovenian knows only too well from his dramatic implosion on the penultimate stage of this year’s Tour de France, the race is not over until the riders cross the finish line in the Spanish capital.
Roglic held an advantage of nearly a minute over compatriot Tadej Pogacar at the Tour back in September after 19 of the 21 stages. By the end of stage 20, he was 59 seconds in arrears giving hope to the chasing pack that the Slovenian may not be as secure in the red jersey as he may seem.
Three men are inside two minutes of Roglic and none will have given up hope of catching the 31-year-old.
Let’s take a look at the four likeliest winners of the 2020 Vuelta a Espana.
The defending champion is clearly in a strong position to retain his title after riding into La Roja for a third time in the race.
An advantage of nearly 40 seconds is a handy buffer to have with just four meaningful stages remaining.
He perhaps would have expected to put more time into pure climber Carapaz but with just two category-one and one super-category climb remaining to negotiate, he will not be too disappointed.
Attacks from his rivals will come but with trusty lieutenant Sepp Kuss in two, Roglic, who is
7/4 to win next year’s Tour de France, has the team-mates to repel them. The question is: will he have a catastrophic day like at the Tour?
Time-trialling is not the diminutive Ecuadorian’s forte so stage 13 was all about damage limitation for the Ineos rider.
A deficit of 39 seconds is not insurmountable and as his team have shown before at the 2018 Giro d’Italia with Chris Froome, you can bet that no stone will be left unturned in the search for how and where Carapaz can land a knockout blow.
The penultimate stage 17 seems the likeliest battleground with a summit finish atop the Alto de la Covatilla offering pure climber Carapaz his optimum conditions.
We’ve already seen a youngster from the cycling hotspot of, er, Hackney win a Grand Tour in 2020 so why not Preston? British climber Hugh Carthy has had a breakout Vuelta, winning atop the gruelling Angliru to claim his first stage at a Grand Tour.
The Prestonian sits third on general classification after a very creditable fourth place on stage 13 and is 47 seconds adrift of Roglic.
Carthy has shown a willingness to attack and rode away from Roglic on the Angliru, finishing 26 seconds ahead of him and gaining ten bonus seconds for winning the stage.
However, that climb is a brutally unique test and the remaining terrain makes it difficult for him to gain such an advantage.
Stage 13 probably put paid to Dan Martin’s hope of Vuelta glory as he lost 1’17” to Roglic and is now 1’47” behind the Slovenian.
The Irishman is certain to attack the top three whenever an opportunity arises but in a sport where time defines everything, there may not be enough for Martin to claw back his losses.
Prioritising challenging for a place on the podium would probably be his best option now.