Roglic seizes on UAE misstep to win Basque Country

Roglic leads David Gaudu at Itzulia Basque Country. Photo: Cor Vos

by Caley Fretz

photography by Cor Vos


Primoz Roglic, his young team outgunned, utilized the efforts of other favorites to snatch overall victory at the Basque Country from UAE-Team Emirates, its young American Brandon McNulty, and Tadej Pogacar.

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The UAE strategy was admirable, in a way, if in the end misguided. The team came into the final stage of Itzulia Basque Country with the leader’s jersey on the shoulders of McNulty, who showed excellent form throughout the week, and for whom a win at this race would be a definitive step in a burgeoning career. He had Tour de France winner Pogacar at his side and 23 seconds in hand over Roglic. A hard stage lay ahead.

At 50 kilometers to go, it all fell apart.

Movistar and Astana-Premier Tech attacked over the top and down the backside of the Krabelin, catching out McNulty. A moment’s inattention or a moment of bad legs; it’s not clear which, but the result is the same. A small gap quickly grew. UAE had a split-second decision to make: leave Pogacar in the front group to follow Roglic, and thus leave him in contention for the victory (he started the day 4th, 43 seconds back), or pull him back to McNulty to try to save the American’s day.

They chose the latter. UAE pulled Marc Hirschi back, too. But it wasn’t enough. A small gap quickly grew, 15 seconds to 30 to a minute as Movistar and Astana rotated across the long valley before the next climb.

Tadej Pogacar leads Brandon McNulty as they chase the front group containing Primoz Roglic – photo Luis Gomez/Cor Vos © 2021

Roglic sat on in the front group. The youth and relative inexperience of team Jumbo-Visma turned out to be a non-factor, as Roglic was able to utilize the efforts of other teams for a free ride into the virtual lead.

Pogacar was eventually forced to leave McNulty behind. He chased to within 30 seconds of the Roglic group, a pile of other GC contenders sitting on his wheel. The quality of his effort will give him some consolation, as he kept the gap reasonably close with very little help and still managed to shed most of the hangers-on on the final climbs of the day. He earned him a podium appearance, at least, finishing 3rd overall.

Roglic and a flying David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) separated themselves from all challenges on the final climb of the day, leaving EF’s Hugh Carthy behind. Perhaps thinking of the reaction to his final-meters pass and win over Gino Mäder at Paris-Nice, Roglic didn’t contest the sprint as a thanks for Gaudu’s efforts and both crossed the line with their arms in the air.

David Gaudu takes the stage win ahead of Primoz Roglic.

Should UAE have abandoned McNulty earlier? Or perhaps left Pogacar to ride for himself, following Roglic? It was a gamble that didn’t pay off, but the end result would likely have been no different. It’s unlikely Pogacar would have taken 20 seconds on a clearly comfortable Roglic in the finale, though at least he would have stood a chance.

Or look at it another way: UAE gambled on a career-altering victory for McNulty in a relatively small stage race. The other option was to abandon their young race leader and ride for a victory that would hardly register on their Tour de France champion’s palmares. Taking a chance on an untested leader is wonderfully laudable, if not particularly pragmatic.

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