Hotly-tipped Tour de France contender Primoz Roglic won Tuesday’s stage four on the race’s first summit finish but failed to drop any of his key rivals in the process, including overall leader Julian Alaphilippe.
On a perfect day for racing the Vuelta a Espana champion edged home his Slovenian compatriot Tadej Pogacar in second, while Guillaume Martin was third after 160.5km rolling run to the 1850m altitude finish line.
The Alpine summit stage was billed as the moment the true form of the various contenders would be revealed on the 7.1km climb to the ski resort of Orcieres-Merlette at a 6.7% average incline.
It was here in 1971 the great Spanish climber Luis Ocana beat Eddy Merckx by nine minutes, but there was nothing resembling that this year despite the desperate jostling and posturing over the final kilometre.
The one weapon Roglic has in his armoury is his fabulous strength to allow him an irresistable late kick, and while he used this to win, defending champion Egan Bernal and fancied Frenchman Thibaut Pinot also held on.
“It was quite a hard day actually and it was a nice win,” said former ski-jumper Roglic, who has kept a low profile since a horrible skid saw him lose a great deal of skin in his last race.
“I was very happy to win, but I have to accept he’s still in yellow,” he said of Frenchman Alaphilippe.
Colombian Bernal kept his powder dry until rising from his saddle once Roglic put the hammer down just 400m from the finish line, finishing comfortably with the select group of around 20 who kept up.
Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma sports director Grischa Niermann said ahead of the stage this was an opportunity to test their legs and the legs of their rivals, and it proved to be the case.