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Primoz Roglic: the only way is up

Will Strickson
18 Jun 2021

Jumbo-Visma's star man is looking for revenge at the Tour. Photos: Tissot

If anyone knows the benefits of making a change it's Primož Roglič. 

Roglič has improved every year since taking up cycling aged 22, getting bigger and bigger results; but having been the world's number one ranked rider for a record 71 weeks, how much further can he go?

Speaking on a break from his long Tour de France training camp with his Jumbo-Visma teammates, the Slovenian would be the first to answer that question.

He hasn't raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, instead deciding to prepare for the biggest race of his career at altitude, the one race that stands in the way of being recognised as truly the best in the sport.

'I believe in the approach we took,' he says. 'It's something different but every year you need to change something and of course you're changing things with the hope to do it better. Sometimes it works, sometimes not, but we'll see at the Tour how it will go.'

In the run up to the 2020 Tour, Roglič raced the three-stage Tour de l'Ain and three stages of the Criterium du Dauphiné – before after a crash forced him to abandon – within three weeks of the Grand Départ.

'We all realised that I was always ready coming from altitude camp for a race, so it was actually not a big deal to do a race or not,' he explains, though also emphasising that just a month after his Tour heartbreak he was lining up at the Vuelta a España, which he won.

Of course, the only reason why he needs to improve is compatriot Tadej Pogačar.

Roglič's performance in the fateful Planche des Belles Filles time-trial is often seen as a bad day for the Jumbo-Visma man, despite him finishing fifth on the stage.

It was UAE Team Emirates prodigy Pogačar's individual display, taking almost a minute and a half on Tom Dumoulin in second – and he needed only 57 seconds on Roglič – that sealed it.

'It's always the concurrents or people around you that push you to change things. To do it different, to do it better, to try to be as good a version of yourself as possible.

'For Slovenians, it's super nice that we have two guys coming from the same country and can be one of the best cycling nations in the world. But from my point it pushes me even harder because he's coming from the same country. The fight is even bigger.'

If the pair, born just 50km apart, continue their duel – which reared its head at April's Itzulia Basque Country, won brilliantly by Roglič – it's set to be added to the wealth of all time great Tour rivalries and Roglič admits that himself before insisting its not a two-horse race.

Also new for 2021 is his partnership with Tissot, the Swiss watch maker responsible for timing cycling's biggest races. 'I'm honoured to be an an ambassador for Tissot. Every second matters in cycling, every millisecond,' says Roglič, who experienced both sides of marginal time differences last year, with bonus seconds essential to winning his second Vuelta.

'I think it's the same in life and together with Tissot we can write my story together, sharing the same beliefs and fighting for the same goals.'

It's important to note too how the events of last year affected the peloton. 'Everything was just different,' he says. 'We had to adapt to new rules and a new way of racing without spectators, it makes you appreciate everything we had before and it's nice to see people back on the road supporting us.'

That support isn't exclusive to races either, though he has noticed an increasing amount of Slovenian flags roadside. When he has, albeit rarely, ridden on home roads he's been greeted by plenty of screaming and 'a lot' of replicas of his Jumbo-Visma Slovenian Road Race Champion's jersey – one that he rode away from his young nemesis to win.

His Jumbo-Visma team has also gone through its own changes this season, with another raft of climbing talent like Jonas Vingegaard, who finished second between the two Slovenians in Itzulia and is set to be named in the Dutch squad's Tour side, as well as a new kit exclusively for the Tour – to avoid the yellow clash we saw in 2020 – and a new bike.

'It's maybe a bigger change for the mechanics going from rim brakes to the disc brakes but it's working well, I like it a lot and we are happy with the Cervélo,' says Roglič, adding that while the discs are 'a lot, a lot, better with the bad weather', they're 'not the thing that will win or lose you the Tour de France'.

Another big benefit to his extended training period is the chance to spend more time with his partner Lora and young son, Lev.

'I've been away from home since 8th May and I'll be back after the Olympics, so everything that I can spend with them in between is nice. They are my biggest supporters and together we can help each other to get ready.'

And while the GC contenders are getting younger and younger – Roglič still had a season of ski jumping ahead at Pogačar's age – Lev, born in 2019, still has a long way to go. 'He's riding his own bike and he likes to watch on television. At this time in our life we are surrounded with bikes so he can't really escape.

'Just that he's healthy and doing the things that he likes, I will support him, and we will see what he will do, I'm not pushing him to do cycling because I'm doing it. Every sport whatever you're doing is not the easiest thing and as long as he's healthy and happy that's my dream come true.'

Plus, at 31 Roglič still has a way to go himself: 'I think you always have some work to do when you always want to improve. I don't imagine gaining another 100 watts but I can hopefully still gain a few percent and some watts so that's my main focus and goal for the future.'

Whether he's celebrating or not next month, Roglič's maturity and humility is clear. Not many could keep their cool and bounce back from that heartbreaking defeat in the way that he did and he will take to the start in Brest both physically and mentally more prepared than ever.

To maintain his upward trend, there's only one thing he needs to do.

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