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Q&A: Primož Roglič talks ski jumping, winning the Vuelta a España, and his meteoric rise

The 2019 Vuelta a España winner opens up about his meteoric rise in cycling, a fondness for beer, and sharing team leadership with another grand tour winner.

Did you know Primož Roglič used to be a ski jumper?

It’s become a joke within cycling circles to mention Roglič’s past sporting life with an air of whimsy. Yet that doesn’t downplay how Roglič’s story seems to be straight from a Hollywood script. On Monday we chronicled Roglič’s journey from skiing to pro cycling in a profile from the January/February issue of VeloNews. Today, we have an interview with Roglič, to talk about the Vuelta a España, his Tour de France ambitions, and yeah, ski jumping.

VeloNews: What were your favorite sports when you were a child?

Primož Roglič: I was a ski jumper for 15 years—a big part of my life. At that time I liked to watch all kind of sports: ski jumping, alpine skiing, cross country skiing… One of my favorite ski jumpers was Adam Małysz. He was quite a big name at that time, even before I started, but also for Slovenia, Primož Peterka, who won a World Cup in 1997, and 1998.

VN: Why did you start ski jumping?

PR: My neighbors, and country have a culture of ski jumping, so you don’t think much, and there’s no much option [Roglič was born in the small town of Trbovlje, 14,000 inhabitants]. If you have a ski jumping place you go ski jumping. That’s how it started and then when you’re in, you want to get better and better.

In Slovenia it’s normal, when you’re a kid they always put you on skis and ski behind the house, if there is a hill. Everybody knows how to ski. And for us there were some hills for ski jumping. It’s a culture, a part of us. Much more than cycling—we are not the nation where you are born and ride the bike. But then later on you decide what to do.

When I was in ski jumping, for me that was the biggest thing. Now, looking from the other side, from cycling, I see cycling growing more and more in Slovenia, also thanks to our results. It’s becoming more and more popular.

VN: When did you start cycling?

PR: I started with amateur races when I was 22 years old, but just home races. In my village there is just one climb, and I was winning them all, and I thought maybe I really have a talent.

As an amateur, I started with the team [which] Andrej Hauptman was on [a former road cyclist, also from Slovenia]. Before riding for the team, I was texting and emailing him all the time because I wanted to become a cyclist. I was already 22-23 years old, and was saying “forget it, forget it”—but in the end he allowed me in because I was pushing and pushing, and then at the end I had the chance to start riding.

Then later on, in 2013, I get into U23 with the help of some people, some friends gave me the opportunity to become a member of Continental Team (Adria Mobile), and then I started to get known in cycling world.

VN: What do you remember of those early years?

PR: It was terrible, it was so hard. You can imagine, my second race was Coppi e Bartali with Ivan Basso and these guys [he finished 60th in the GC, 25 minutes down Diego Ulissi]. I was à bloc from the start and I didn’t know what was going on. After two days, I couldn’t walk down the stairs, my neck was hurting—I was broken. And I though “how can you do this sport?” I couldn’t believe they could do it for three weeks, it’s too crazy. But it’s different now, we are racing three weeks and you do hard stages. It was hard, it was really hard because everything was new: riding in the peloton, drinking in the peloton, eating in the peloton, putting clothes on and off. For me it was just “Wow! What is happening?” You need time to understand everything.

Roglič is becoming accustomed to the attention afforded a grand tour winner. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

VN: And now, six years later, you’re the number one cyclist in the world [by UCI ranking]. How does it feel like?

PR: I’m just proud of it. I was fighting for it, and hoping for it for my whole life. When I was a ski jumper I wanted to be the best, but then in the end I had some problems and injuries. I just had to realize that I was 22 years old and I was not going to be Olympic champion and I did not win nothing [he actually was junior world champion in ski jumping in 2007]. It was time to do something, so I changed and I still wanted to achieve something. It’s incredible. I didn’t have a bike until I was 22 years old and now [he’s 30] I am number one. It’s quite crazy. I’m proud of it, to be at the place I am.

When I met with Hauptman I said, “Look, I have 3,000km in my life, and I want to be professional”. He of course said that is nothing and that was one month of training.

If I look now back, because now I know how hard it is to become professional cyclist, I think I wouldn’t decide for it. Because it’s just too crazy. I just didn’t know. I didn’t know nothing. I didn’t know how hard it is and I just wanted to be the best. To go the Giro and to go to the Tour. At the first gran fondos I said I wanted to go to the Giro and they were all smiling. They say “Giro? He’s already 23. He can just be amateur.” But at the end, I went also to the Giro.

VN: Do you think part of your success and development was due to the fact you didn’t know how hard was it?

PR: Yes, definitely. I didn’t know and I wasn’t afraid of it, but also then at the end, the determination helped me. I wanted to be the best or to be at that place and I saw it suited me well. Of course you need some talent. You need it to be the best, in everything. But I saw all the time that I had it, that I am good.

But it was hard start, there were too many new things. To put me in the peloton for the first time in 2013, a lot a lot of crashes, at every race. I couldn’t finish, I was all the time on the floor and asking myself on the way to the hospital, “Why do I need this?” Because I was just finishing [schooling] and saying, “It’s not necessary that I have to cycle,” or “I have to make money with cycling. I can do whatever I want.” But this were maybe like hard moments—I had to fight through it, and it’s like with everything in life when you follow your goals, or your dreams.

VN: Did you have time after the season to go back home and have some rest with friends and family?

PR: It’s quite busy all the time. It’s just the place we are at the moment. You fight hard to be the best one and that comes with the success. But it’s just beautiful to be at home, especially in the off-season, and to live more a normal life with the family and the kid [he became father in June of last year], to just enjoy some time, and walk in the forest.

VN: Is home still your favorite place in the world?

PR: Yes, definitely, but now I’m so much away from home, and from my family and from the moments I have at home.

VN: What do you do to relax when you’re home? Are a couple of drinks allowed?

PR: Yes also! I also drink beer, it’s no big secret and I also like it. At home I just enjoy my life, and I just try to be a little less stressed. In the season, I spend a lot of time in the camps, and altitude camps, and the races. When I am home I can afford it; to leave normal and do what normal people do.

VN: Would you define yourself as a reserved kind of person or with your friends and family you’re more extrovert?

PR: Maybe for the outside people I am more like shy and I am not immediately coming to a place and jump in the middle of them and talking. But I think that when I am with friends and family I am quite open and crazy [he smiles].

 

Jonathan Castroviejo and Egan Bernal (Team INEOS) keep a close eye on Roglič . Photo: Christopher Jue/Getty Images

VN: During the Vuelta it seemed you became more and more quiet. Was it because you were more and more tired?

PR: Yes, for sure. You are just tired and you know, I know how much energy I need to win that race. I just didn’t want to lose it then. Let’s say, because of spending too much energy or time with all the journalists. I was also not acting the best way, I have to admit and I want to change it. You get too much into the race and for me after the race—the journalists and everything—you just don’t want to do it. Ok, you have to, but for me the most considering thing is that every day the recovery is good as possible, and the next day I can perform the best way. All the rest is just disturbing you and doing like this [like he did] was probably not the best. The best way was maybe show myself a bit more.

But we just need to understand and respect everybody and everyone. When you go there and every day is a press conference and you have all these questions—the fact is that if I stay there for three hours, it’s three hours. It’s no limit and we all need to find the right solution. To find the right balance always between us.

VN: Last year you were originally supposed to the Tour after the Giro, but then you changed plan.

PR: Yes, I was just finished. The Giro took out of me years of life. I was sick, I was finished. Three weeks after I started to build up again. That was already the start of the Tour. I cannot imagine to suffer again in the Tour.

I suffered too much the last ten days of the Giro. Every day I was just telling my mind that I finish this one then I’m done for a while. Normally it’s hard to always predict how we finish a grand tour, but when you finish one in one piece and healthy, it’s possible to do another one. And also to do good, and compete for the best places, but it just depends. It’s 21 days, and normally, a lot of things happen in between.

VN: What were the hardest and nicest moments from last year?

PR: There were many. It was just so hard having stomach problems, crashes and everything, I was really not feeling well, and it was hard to fight every day. And every start of the stage I was on the limit or going hard and then to be just able to finish every day and to be able to finish and still gaining some time and jumping on the podium [of the Giro].

The last day it’s really something I showed myself again, and how far I can go, or how much you can achieve with really far from a good scenario of things that happened. Yes, it is always a lot easier in other races. We definitely learned a lot that we applied in the Vuelta, but it was still not easy to win the Vuelta. We also had crashes and problems, but anyway, we did it. It was nice.

VN: How are you going to build up your race season ahead of the Tour [the main goal for Roglič and Jumbo-Visma]?

PR: I am starting a little later than last year. I’m starting with Paris-Nice as my first race, and then Basque Country, Flèche, Bastogne-Liège and Dauphinée, and Tour. It’s a good approach, there are some new races for me that I have never done, and some new challenges.

Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

VN: Have you already had time to get to know Tom Dumoulin a little bit?

PR: Yes, I know him more and more and spent some time together. He’s really friendly, and of course it’s a pleasure to be in his company. He’s a great champion, and won a lot of races.

I think we’ll do some really nice races together. On the paper we look very strong and then we will see on the road how good we are.