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Hot off Tirreno nail-biter, Roglic ready to soar at Giro

Jumbo-Visma brass say that Roglic is an astute student of the sport, progressing rapidly despite a lack of experience as a junior or under-23 rider.

After his high-pressure victory at Tirreno-Adriatico, Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) is on a tear.

Over the past 12 months, he’s been cycling’s dominator in one-week stage races. Dating back to last April’s Itzulia Basque Country, the Slovenian all-rounder has won five of the past six one-week stage races he’s started. This year, he’s two-for-two, holding the leader’s jersey start to finish at the UAE Tour, and then nipping Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) by 0.31 seconds to claim the overall at Tirreno-Adriatico.

“He’s building a nice record in stage races,” team manager Richard Plugge said. “Up until now, it’s going in the right direction.”

Now it’s time to fry bigger fish.

The one-week race wins are impressive. Yet Roglic’s destiny as a GC man was set by his 2018 Tour de France performance — a fourth-place overall result coupled with a stage win. That July performance was a game-changer, both for Roglic and Jumbo-Visma. Along with Steven Kruijswijk, the team now has two legitimate grand tour podium contenders.

Plugge said all the pieces are in place for the 29-year-old Roglic to dream of winning grand tours.

“We cannot go to a grand tour now with Primoz without having the ambition of winning it,” Plugge said. “After being fourth last year in the Tour, and winning the Basque Country tour, he’s shown he can do it. It’s our ambition to win the Giro.”

This year’s Giro, featuring three time trials and a heavy dose of climbing, is ideal for Roglic’s skillset. The Giro’s time trials, which are not old-school specialist courses typically seen at the Tour, especially favor Roglic’s explosive power. With unbridled ambition, Roglic will start the Giro on May 11 as one of the five-star favorites.

Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White has already singled him out as Simon Yates’s most dangerous rival in this year’s corsa rosa.

“Roglic is 100-percent our top rival for the Giro,” White said. “He scares me a little bit, to be honest. He’s 29, going on 23 or 24. I love the way he races, and he’s not afraid of anyone.”

Roglic

Roglic, of course, is still relatively new to professional cycling. A former Nordic ski jumper, Roglic transitioned into cycling in his early 20s. Similar to EF Education First’s Michael Woods, who switched to bike racing in his mid-20s after a running career, Roglic took a few years to learn the basic skills of racing a bike in the bunch. It was obvious early on he had tremendous natural talent and a biting instinct for winning.

Plugge said Roglic’s ski jumping career hasn’t necessarily helped him transition into cycling — the skillsets couldn’t be more different — but said that his experience as an elite athlete made Roglic a natural listener and easy to coach. Minute details make big differences in ski jumping, for example how a jumper bends their knee or extends their hands, so Roglic is particularly astute at listening to coaches and expert advise. Roglic is also clearly aware he needs to improve in all facets of racing.

“He is very coachable, and he listens carefully and is able to take in very fast what our coaches tell him,” Plugge said. “Physically, we knew he was already a big talent. He is a very fast student, and he is learning all the skills of being a bike racer very quickly.”

Roglic’s rise within the peloton has been nothing short of spectacular. He turned pro in 2013 with Slovenian-based Adria Mobil, and claimed his first pro wins in 2014. A move to the WorldTour in 2016 saw him quickly impose his natural talents, taking an individual time trial win at that year’s Giro in his grand tour debut. In 2017, he won a mountain stage in a breakaway over the Col du Galibier in his Tour de France debut and won silver behind Tom Dumoulin in the world time trial championship. And last year, he was one of the strongest and most consistent riders across the entire season.

With only three grand tour starts — each one harvesting a stage win — he is already preparing to ride for all-out victory in May.

Behind the scenes, the team has quietly been building up its support system for Roglic and Kruijswijk. The team already had a strong base for the flats, with such veterans as Paul Martens and Tom Leezer, but it’s been recruiting some frontline climbers to help the GC captains in the mountains. New recruit Laurens De Plus (from Quick-Step) and Sepp Kuss, who rode beyond expectations in his rookie season in 2018, will be key climbers for the future. Robert Gesink and George Bennett can also provide vital support in the mountains in the right scenario. Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) brings additional firepower for the team time trials and the flats.

Now all the pieces are in place. Roglic will only race at the Tour de Romandie before the Giro. A return to the Tour in July might also be in the cards this season, but that decision will be made based on what happens in May.

“Now we have a strong ‘second line’ to support Primoz. He is also very strong tactically,” Plugge added. “The whole team is behind him. We can go to the Giro full of confidence.”