Tour de France 2020

Analysis: The six keys to Primož Roglič’s Tour de France lead

Slovenian star's pathway toward Tour victory has come through a cocktail of strength, robustness, tactical savvy, and the touch of lady luck.

Barring disaster, Primož Roglič is set to win the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday.

With a 57-second lead over Tadej Pogačar after stage 19 of the race, Roglič only needs to ride a strong individual time trial to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles on Saturday to take the yellow jersey of Tour champion.

While anything can happen in the Tour de France, it’s looking likely that Roglič will take a victory that encapsulates why you need more than just good legs – which he undoubtedly has – to win the biggest bike race in the world.

While opponents faded or fell foul of bad luck, Roglič has ground his way to the top of the Tour’s GC ladder thanks to peerless form, an unstoppable Jumbo-Visma team, and a perfect cocktail of tactical savvy, unfading durability, and a sprinkling of fair fortune.

Here are six keys Roglič and his team took on their path to the yellow jersey:

Critérium du Dauphiné recovery

Primoz Roglic
Roglič was still wrapped in gauze, but on the mend, in Nice. Photo: James Start

Roglič’s first step toward his first-ever yellow jersey came before the race had even begun. In the moment he abandoned the Critérium du Dauphiné after crashing but racing on through the fourth stage, he sacrificed his chance to win the key tuneup test in favor of resting and allowing a swathe of road rash and other injuries extra time to heal.

The week before the Tour rolled out of Nice, rumors abound as to whether Roglič would start the race amid uncertainty over how well he had recovered from his crash. However, it was the back pain that also caused Egan Bernal to sit our the final stage of the Dauphiné that should have been the center of attention.

The defending champion admitted at his pre-race press conference that he was still having back problems, and they bedded in to eventually end his race just over two weeks later. Roglič raced through the opening week with gauze wrapped around one of his healing wounds. By the middle of the race, the gauze was off – just as Bernal’s nagging  injury had begun to escalate into a race-ending handicap.

Survival in Nice

Bad start for Pinot, who fell in a large pile-up with three kilometers to go. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat - Pool/Getty Images)
The Tour got off to a bad start for Pinot, who fell in a large pile-up on stage one. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat – Pool/Getty Images

You can’t win a bike race if you don’t finish it, and by coming through the slippery and sketchy opening stage around Nice rubber side up, Roglič saved himself slipping on a banana skin before the race had truly got started.

Heavy rain and oil-slicked roads created carnage on the Tour’s Grand Depart, with scores of riders hitting the deck. Among those to taste the tarmac was podium contender Thibaut Pinot, who battled on through to stage 8 with a swathe of back problems from the pileup on the Promenade des Anglais before shedding time on the climb of the Port de Balès, marking himself as the first major casualty in the GC battle.

Winning a three-week bike race requires fortune to be smiling down upon a rider. Roglič kept it upright on the slippery surfaces on Nice as lady luck looked down on him from through the rainclouds.

Crosswinds crux

Crosswinds sparked carnage Friday.
Crosswinds sparked carnage on the stage into Lavaur. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Everyone was expecting the final hour into Lavaur on stage 7 of the Tour to be detonated by crosswinds, and sure enough, it was. Despite the warnings, several were caught out and left ruing a mistake that cost them valuable time before the major GC shake ups in the mountains.

Pogačar, Richie Porte, and Mikel Landa were among those that rolled into Lavaur 1:21 down on the lead group, which included Roglič and four of his teammates. Where would Pogačar be now if he hadn’t been caught out?

Now sitting 57-seconds behind Roglič, Pogačar’s race could have looked altogether different if it wasn’t for that one error on the windswept plains outside Lavaur. Sure, the youngster would have been marked more closely in the back half of the race if he hadn’t lost that time, and so may not have been able to hit out to grab 40 seconds in his raid over the Peyresourde. However, having proven himself one of the most dangerous climbers in the race, Pogačar sure could have benefited from not going into the Pyrénées already off the back.

Marie-Blanque bonuses

Roglic made it clear he wanted bonus points with his summit sprint on the Marie Blanque Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Every second counts at the Tour de France, and Roglič has made sure to secure every scrap of time scrap of time within his reach.

Roglič earned his first yellow jersey on stage 9 of the race after snatching up bonus seconds with a fierce sprint atop the Col du Marie Blanque before racing on to take second-place on the stage. The five seconds he earned atop the cat 1 Pyrénéan climb, along with his further bonuses for top stage placings in Laruns and atop the Col de la Loze and Orcieres-Merlette sum up to 33 seconds – over half of his total lead on Pogačar.

One of Roglič’s many strengths is his ability to sprint at the end of a long mountain effort. The astute targeting of bonus seconds is testament to Jumbo-Visma’s tactical nous throughout the race, which has seen them driving the pace on days it matters and letting others do the work when Roglič has nothing to gain.

Team dominance on Grand Colombier

Jumbo-Visma crushed the peloton on the Grand Colombier, with Wout van Aert setting an early tempo. Photo: James Startt

Jumbo-Visma made a serious statement of intent on the first high-mountain summit finish atop the Grand Colombier on stage 15. The Dutch squad throttled the race through the 17.4-kilometer grind in the Jura, putting the nail in the coffin of Egan Bernal’s already-fragile GC bid, distancing Nairo Quintana, and stifling Richie Porte, Rigoberto Uran, Mikel Landa and Adam Yates into submission.

Pogačar may have snatched the stage win away from Roglič on top of the mighty mountain, but the elder Slovenian proved that while cycling is a team sport, it’s won by individuals. Jumbo-Visma is clearly the strongest team in the race, and Roglič proved with his narrow second-place on the stage that he has the clout to back it up after the likes of Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert have put in the hard yards before him.

Consistency in the Alps

Roglic distanced Pogacar on the Loze. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Having dominated the Tour de l’Ain and Criterium du Dauphine, there were inevitably questions as to whether Roglič was repeating the mistakes made in spring last year. Roglič also looked unstoppable in his build to the 2019 Giro d’Italia and rode high through the race’s opening weeks, only to crack in the final phase and lose his grip on his pink jersey. Was Roglič again peaking too soon this summer?

Doesn’t look like it.

In both of the consecutive Alpine tests to Col de la Loze on Wednesday and then Roche-sur-Foron on Thursday, Roglič remained powerful as yellow jersey foe Pogačar began to creak and groan. The Jumbo-Visma man was able to put the power down to distance his young compatriot on the Col de la Loze, and rode strong on the front of the GC group over the gravel of the Glières as Pogacar slip-slided through the stones behind him.

While Roglič’s yellow jersey is far from secure until he steps top the top of the podium at the Champs-Élyéees, he’s made all the right steps to make it happen.