On May 5, a few days before Primož Roglič gave interviews to the Slovenian press, Jonas Vingegaard was asked by DR in Denmark about his goals for the season. When the topic of the Tour de France came up, Vingegaard replied to Tobias Hansen: “I’m going to win.”
That’s quite a bold statement, yet the implications are clear: Jumbo Visma has more than one plan for the Tour de France this year.
“We all know what I’m missing and so is [Jumbo Visma]: The Tour de France,” said Roglič to RTV’s Toni Gruden and a small gathering of other journalists at the Chamber of Commerce in Ljubljana.
Then, a joke: “But as we know, for me the Tour is just a warm up, a preparation for the Vuelta.”
Roglič smiled when he said this, but given the context of what has already happened this season, one could find some merit in the statement despite its levity.
- Primož Roglič to miss Ardennes classics with knee injury
- Primož Roglič grinds through Itzulia Basque Country with muscle issues
When Roglič was at home in Slovenia, he was still recovering from a knee injury that started plaguing him as far back as Milan-San Remo. Perhaps this is why he dropped back and was distanced from team leader Wout van Aert in that race’s finale.
Roglič described the injury as a ruptured muscle behind the knee that “didn’t affect the knee itself” and clarified that he is now pain-free. Yet for reasons still unclear, he kept racing after Milan-San Remo despite the pain, heading to the Basque Country where he finished a lukewarm, for him, eighth in the GC.
Despite a stellar opening time trial, Roglič visibly suffered, grabbing at his knee during an on-camera peloton chat with Enric Mas. He was dropped on climbs he used to conquer effortlessly. The sight of Roglič in chronic pain is not one we as cycling spectators are used to.
There’s reason to hope, however. Since coming home, Roglič has been seen riding around on the bike a few times by local Instagram sleuths. He has sought care from a famous, in Slovenian sporting circles, kinesiologist, Mitja Bračič.
As of writing, Roglič is now on his way to the Sierra Nevada for three weeks of training after which his plans remain fundamentally unchanged: he will tackle the Dauphine, the Tour, and the Vuelta. That’s a big program, and it’s an indication that Jumbo-Visma continues to have faith in its biggest GC star.
Still, the knee incident is the first chink in what has been for the last several years an invincible suit of armor. It is in some ways a worrying development and acknowledging this by no means implies that Roglič’s stellar career is starting to come to a close.
After all, the man became an Olympic Gold medalist last year and has in this very season already won Paris-Nice. But it is an indication that our expectations of him should start to adapt to these new physical conditions, limits, and struggles as he himself does.
Roglič can and will have many more stellar wins as a cyclist, but coming to terms with the fact that each victory will be fought for with greater effort is part of having a healthy outlook toward the sport’s practitioners as they age and change roles throughout their careers. Hence, we return to the Tour.
Jocular or not, Roglič’s Vuelta statement combined with Vingegaard’s rather audacious proclamation serve a particular purpose for Jumbo-Visma as far as media is concerned. They downplay Roglič’s chances ahead of time and thereby take some of the pressure off of his shoulders.
They also split the team’s GC expectations half and half between Roglič and Vingegaard. On paper, this benefits both, within their roles on the team as well as psychologically. Vingegaard can fall back on Roglič, and Roglič on Vingegaard instead of either having to carry the torch for the full three weeks.
What that functionally means for the division of labor and the strategy of the team remains to be seen, though perhaps the Basque Country, in which Roglič won a stage and then kept riding in support of Vingegaard is an indication of how things will play out.
Indeed, there is something to be said about Jumbo-Visma’s adaptability. After Roglič’s early Tour exit last year, Vingegaard was still – despite loads of media pressure and visibility he wasn’t yet used to – able to carry the team to another second place in GC. How that previous iteration of adaptability – one main guy and one fallback guy – will shift in a scenario where two leaders share equal power is a different story, and the always-looming potential of Van Aert pursuing the green jersey adds further complications to an already tenuous and yet unconfirmed multi-prong plan.
Yet historically in such situations of co-leadership, the pressure meant to be alleviated by diverting it through multiple outlets will, like tributaries of a river emptying out into the same ocean, find its way onto the shoulders of the better rider. Who among us remembers the Movistar ‘trident’?
For now, let’s look at the facts: Roglič is coming off of his worst non-crash-related injury to date. The promises made by Vingegaard’s second place to Tadej Pogačar in Tirreno-Adriatico haven’t materialized in the other hilly races. His sixth place GC in Itzulia Basque Country was lackluster, and what’s worse is the Dane finished neither of the Ardennes Classics he started.
In light of this, the two leaders sharing their efforts is probably the smartest thing both could do. While we are still at liberty to speculate, rather than reading co-leadership as a fallback plan, we should perhaps be a little more gracious toward the idea.
Sharing responsibility in carrying the Tour is a testament to both Roglič’s graciousness as a mentor and Vingegaard’s potential as a leader. It represents the union of two generations of grand tour champions at Jumbo-Visma. It is a collective team endeavor in pursuit of defeating an individual, namely Pogačar. It is neither the beginning of a new era nor the end of an old one but rather one of transition, a liminal space where possibilities are opened and closed.
Or, in the oft-quoted words of Roglič himself: “We’ll see how it goes, huh?”