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Tour de France

Primoz Roglic is LottoNL’s Tour wildcard

The Slovenian is riding for team captain Steven Kruijswijk, but he is showing signs of GC potential.

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FOUGÈRES, France (VN) — Primoz Roglic is playing a wildcard role for LottoNL-Jumbo at the Tour de France. The Dutch squad has said it is backing Steven Kruijswijk for the general classification, but Roglic — who won the Vuelta al País Vasco and the Tour de Romandie this spring — will be worth watching this month.

LottoNL may have tipped its hand on Thursday’s stage 6, where Roglic found himself behind a sudden split in the peloton midway through the trek to Mûr-de-Bretagne.

When the gap to the yellow jersey grew out to a minute, a swarm of LottoNL riders hit the front of the group to bring things back together. Roglic went on to finish 10th in the stage, among the top favorites for the general classification. Roglic told VeloNews on Friday that he hadn’t expected the quick reaction to the mishap. [related title=”More Tour de France news” align=”right” tag=”Tour-de-France”]

“I didn’t tell them to do that so that was nice to see,” he said. “I was sitting behind and just saying to myself, if we come back I will try to do my best on the last climb, because you owe them that.”

Whether the team is willing to expend resources for Roglic in the mountains remains to be seen, although it would hardly be a surprise if the team is at least keeping him in the back pocket as a GC option.

At least according to the team, Kruijswijk is the official captain of the squad. The 31-year-old Dutchman has four grand tour top 10s on his palmares, and he very nearly won the 2016 Giro d’Italia before a crash in the third week forced him to settle for third.

“We really want to go for the GC with Stevie. For me it’s just trying to see how it goes,” Roglic said. “I’ll try to help and do my job.”

Despite his recent emergence as a star of one-week stage races, Roglic is still very much a novice when it comes to being in GC contention in the grand tours.

The versatile 28-year-old, a powerhouse in the time trials and no slouch on the climbs either, is a two-time stage winner in the grand tours. He claimed the stage 9 TT at the 2016 Giro and nabbed a breakaway victory in stage 17 of the 2017 Tour. He has never made a serious run at the general classification of a three-week race, however, and this year’s Tour marks only his third career grand tour appearance.

As such, the team is backing the veteran Kruijswijk first this July. After all, he is still just two years removed from his near-miss at the Giro, and LottoNL is banking on him recapturing that form.

Team sport director Frans Maassen says the squad expects Kruijswijk to shine brightest in the third week. For now, Roglic’s main (stated) goals are staying upright and helping Kruijswijk make it to that point too.

“Kruijswijk is the leader and [Roglic] is fully OK with that,” Maassen said. “He also helps [Kruijswijk] through the stages.”

Roglic is an immense all-around talent, and has certainly earned a chance to figure out whether he really can cut it fighting against the yellow jersey hopefuls in a three-week race. For Maassen, that might take some time, possibly even a few years. This Tour, nonetheless, is a can’t-miss first opportunity to explore his capabilities.

“It’s a process,” Maassen said. “He is doing that step by step. For this year, when there is an opportunity he won’t give it away, but it’s not a real goal for him to do GC.”

At the very least, Roglic and Kruijswijk have both made it through the hectic opening stages of the Tour without much trouble. The team did not perform particularly well in the stage 3 team time trial, but both riders have avoided time losses in the crash-marred road stages.

They’re not through the woods yet, with stage 9 to Roubaix looming, but as Roglic put it, it’s “so far, so good” for now. That’s especially true after stage 6, where Roglic finished 15 places — and nine seconds — ahead of Kruijswijk.

Whatever happens with his quiet GC campaign, Roglic will have added incentive to fight through the Alps and Pyrenees thanks to the individual time trial that awaits in the Tour’s penultimate stage. Should he make it to the end of the third week in good shape, he’ll likely start among the favorites for the stage win. Roglic sees the route as one that suits his skill set.

“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said. “And it’s stage 20, so then there’s only one more to go.”