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Tour de France

Primož Roglič and his high-risk, no-race build to the Tour de France

Roglič has ripped up the script by not racing before the Tour de France. It could prove a masterstroke or a massive mistake in one month's time.

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Richard Carapaz won the Tour de Suisse. Tadej Pogačar was the home hero in Slovenia. Geraint Thomas ruled in Romandie.

And Primož Roglič, the fourth contender for this year’s Tour de France?

He’s been perched atop a mountain, breathing in the thin air of the French Alps. Roglič hasn’t raced in nearly two months, instead opting to spend a total of five weeks training at altitude.

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The Slovenian’s no-race approach to the Tour de France is a path that deviates a long way from a decades-long script of racing into yellow jersey fitness.

Jumbo-Visma sees it as a strategy laden with potential. Ineos Grenadiers spies opportunity in Roglič’s long break from competition.

“Roglič not racing makes it more of an unknown for Jumbo-Visma than it does for us,” said Ineos Grenadiers sport director Gabriel Rasch.

“We’ve been racing everybody else and we have seen our level, we know our level. But for them, it’s more a question mark.”

Ineos Grenadiers has won three stage races with three of its Tour de France wrecking crew in the past months.

While Carapaz and Thomas took wins in Switzerland, Richie Porte won the prestigious Critérium du Dauphiné. Before that, Porte and Thomas supported Adam Yates as he rode to victory at the Volta a Catalunya.

Meanwhile, Roglič has not been in competition since Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Rather than racing through the early summer, he’s spent three weeks in the Sierra Nevada before linking up with teammates for two weeks in Tignes, France.

Roglič’s no-race strategy is one rarely seen in the Tour’s history.

If it works, it could re-write the way teams approach the biggest race of the year. If it fails, it could be the talking point of the season.

Training to race, or racing to race?

The Dauphiné, Suisse, and Tour de Romandie have long been used as stepping stones toward the Tour. While victory there does not guarantee a yellow jersey in Paris, it does provide the opportunity to iron out the creases in tactics and teamwork just weeks before the Tour.

It sure worked for Ineos Grenadiers with its sweep of the early summer stage races.

“The Dauphiné, Catalunya, those races have given us a lot of confidence in how we been riding as a team,” Rasch told a small media group.

“They’ve been really important for the group in general. Their belief in the way we ride, their trust in each other, making them one group in the race and off the race.

“I feel we’re really on track for the Tour – the guys have been performing and the team is looking really good.

Ineos Grenadiers sent what could almost have been its Tour de France squad to the Dauphiné. UAE- Team Emirates similarly took a Tour-lite team to support Pogačar on his way to winning the Tour of Slovenia last week.

Jumbo-Visma hasn’t foregone preparation races altogether though. In Roglič’s absence, the Dutch squad sent Tour de France shoo-ins Sepp Kuss, Steven Kruijswijk, Jonas Vingegaard and Robert Gesink to the Dauphiné earlier this month.

The hope is that Roglič can parachute out of altitude full of form and straight into a dialed-in Jumbo-Visma selection at the Tour next weekend.

“The past has shown that I am immediately very good after an altitude training camp,” Roglič told Ride Magazine.

“After a training camp, I don’t need competition toughness to get into top form. And I think that you’re very fresh mentally when you have no competition to worry about in the weeks prior to the Tour.”

Roglič has long had the albatross of final-week fatigue tied around his neck.

At the 2019 Giro d’Italia, he crumbled out of the pink jersey in the final stages. A year later at the Tour, he was unseated by Pogačar’s one-of-a-kind mountain time trial. Even Roglič’s ride to his second red jersey at last year’s Vuelta a España was nearly derailed in the final week by a resurgent Carapaz.

Roglič knows fatigue is the chink in his grand tour armor. He and Jumbo Visma hope that can be avoided this year with its no-race approach.

“We’ve noticed in a number of grand tours that I am often a bit tired in the third week,” Roglič said. “We hope to prevent that by not racing.”

Different strokes for different folks

Roglic’s approach is not a one-size-fits-all.

Many riders can only hit their highest numbers and finesse their form when chasing wheels or fighting for a finish line.

Jumbo-Visma performance directors say Roglič’s ability to endure the solo suffering of training drills means he can easily mimic race-pace on his own – all while remaining mentally fresh and free of the crashes that saw him abandon last year’s Dauphiné one day early.

“Primož is rare because not all riders can hit the right intensity in training,” Roglič’s coach Mathieu Heijboer told VeloNews.

“Some need the pressure of racing – but Primož can really mimic that on his own. So we can perfectly control the volume and intensity. We are confident it can work.”

Roglič’s decision to camp out in Tignes and Pogačar’s preference for his home roads of Slovenia means it’s been a very long time since the Tour’s top dogs have raced each other.

While Roglič, Pogačar, and Carapaz last faced off at the Itzulia Basque Country in early April, Thomas hasn’t seen Pogačar since Tirreno-Adriatico in March. The Welshman hasn’t raced Roglič for nearly 10 months.

 

The inability to directly rank the Tour’s four top contenders based on recent racing makes this year’s Tour one laden with intrigue.

Pogačar, Thomas, and Carapaz have all followed their own unique set of stepping-stones toward the Grand Départ. Roglič has leapfrogged those stones and will land into France fresh as a daisy – but full of uncertainty.

“I understand that many people in the cycling world are surprised by our approach,” Roglič said. “However, we believe in it.”

Will Roglič and Jumbo-Visma rewrite the pre-Tour playbook by not racing?

They think so. The result in Paris will give the final answer.