Roglic returns from injury to defend Spanish Vuelta title

Slovenia's Primoz Roglic reacts during the thirteenth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 193 kilometers (119.9 miles) with start in Le Bourg d'Oisans and finish in Saint-Etienne. (Thibault Camus/AP)

MADRID (AP) — The Spanish Vuelta is the type of race Primoz Roglic really doesn’t want to miss.

Roglic has been the rider to beat at the Grand Tour event, winning the last three editions.

So even though the 32-year-old Slovenian hasn’t been able to prepare properly — after an injury sustained at the Tour de France — he will still be competing at this year’s race which starts Friday in the Netherlands.

“We are delighted that Primoz can start in the Vuelta after his serious injury in the Tour de France,” Merijn Zeeman, director of Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team, said this week. “Logically, he didn’t have the best preparation, but we greatly respect him for how he managed to get ready. We have a good and balanced team at the start that can optimally support Primoz in all areas.”

Roglic’s preparations to defend his title took a hit because of a dislocated shoulder in the fifth stage of the Tour in July. He was able to continue racing but eventually quit ahead of the 15th stage while also nursing a lower back problem and saying he wanted to allow his “injuries to heal properly.”

The Spanish Vuelta remains the only Grand Tour event won by Roglic. He will be trying to join Spaniard Roberto Heras (2000, 2003-05) as the only rider to win four Vuelta titles. Tony Rominger and Alberto Contador are the only other riders with three Vuelta titles.

The 77th edition begins with three stages in the Netherlands, which missed out on hosting the start in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The start this time will be a team time trial in Utrecht, with the finish taking place on the streets of Madrid.

The three-week race will feature eight flat stages — two of them with high-altitude finishes — as well as four hilly stages, seven mountain stages and two time trials. Riders will get three rest days.

Roglic will certainly be in contention at the end if he is well physically. His challengers include Giro d’Italia winner Jai Hindley, Richard Carapaz, Simon Yates, Mikel Landa, João Almeida and Enric Mas, the runner-up last year.

Miguel Angel Lopez, reinstated by team Astana after an investigation into drug trafficking showed no evidence against him, will also likely be contending.

Two-time winner Chris Froome will be among the record six former Vuelta champions competing, along with Roglic, Yates, Quintana, Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali.

Valverde and Nibali are set to make their farewell rides at this year’s edition — both veterans plan to retire at the end of the season.

Nairo Quintana would also be among the contenders but his participation at the Vuelta was put in doubt after the International Cycling Union said Wednesday he was disqualified from the 2022 Tour de France for misuse of an opioid banned from use during races. The ICU said it was not a doping violation.

Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard and runner-up Tadej Pogacar won’t be competing. Egan Bernal is also absent.

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