TIGNES, France (VN) — You gotta feel for Primož Roglič.
The Slovenian pulled the plug on the 2021 Tour on Sunday, simply too battered and bruised to carry on.
His heavy crash in stage 3 was too much to endure even for a rider as tough as he is. It was one thing to limit the damage in a one-hour time trial, but the long stages, bumpy roads, and brutal climbs proved a mountain too far for the proud Jumbo-Visma all-rounder.
It was a sad chapter to his otherwise spectacular rise in the WorldTour peloton.
Roglič came late to cycling — remember, he used to be a ski jumper! — and he shot across the peloton like an asteroid. He joined the WorldTour in 2016, and rocketed up the standings.
Also read: What’s next for Roglič and Jumbo-Visma?
Grand tour racing fit him like a glove, and he won stages in his debuts at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, respectively. By 2018, with his fearless attacks and superb time trialing, he was soon a favorite in every grand tour he started.
Outright victory in the 2019 and 2020 editions of the Vuelta a España, coupled with third at the 2109 Giro, confirmed his grand tour credentials.
By 2020, he seemed poised to emerge as the next major Tour de France winner.
Then he — and everyone else — ran straight into the unstoppable force otherwise known as Tadej Pogačar.
Primoz Roglic won’t start in today’s stage of @LeTour. He suffers too much from his injuries.
Get well soon @rogla 🍀
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 4, 2021
It’s still early days in the 2021 Tour, and it’s no guarantee that Pogačar will win this in Paris, but what is obvious is that Roglič will have to wait until 2022 for another shot at yellow.
By then, Pogačar will be one year stronger and wiser, and Roglič, who turns 32 in October, will be one year older.
That begs the question: Will Roglič ever win the Tour?
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Roglič’s arrival seemed well-timed. By 2018, the Chris Froome era was winding down, and Pogačar was still in high school. The Tour seemed destined to enter one of those transition periods, with multiple one-off winners.
Indeed, Thomas and Egan Bernal won back-to-back yellow jerseys, and time was on Roglič’s side.
Jumbo-Visma brought the strongest team to the 2020 Tour, and it appeared it had the strongest rider.
Of course, we all know what happened in last year’s Tour.
Primož Roglič after losing the yellow jersey on the stage 20 time trial of the 2020 Tour de France (Photo by Christophe Petit Tesson – Pool/Getty Images) @cyclingweekly #TDF2020 pic.twitter.com/tXqdLirgxW
— AbdullaFaqihi (@AbdullaFaqihi) September 20, 2020
Roglič suffered cycling’s version of an “agony of defeat” ski-jumping accident on the penultimate stage, and gave up three weeks of near-perfect racing on the final time trial in what remains one of the Tour’s most dramatic finales.
Roglič, however, seemed to take it all stride.
Rather than let his Tour collapse bring him down, he did what every true champion does, and got right back to racing. Victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Vuelta last fall revealed his steely resolve.
We will never know what would have happened had he not crashed in stage 3, but his exit means one fewer opportunity at yellow.
There are only so many bullets in the cartridge in one sporting career — just ask Chris Froome about that.
With Pogačar appearing almost without limits, and Bernal waiting in the wings for a return in 2022, not mention a slew of younger riders waiting for their turn, Roglič’s window at Tour glory could be narrowing.
“Today I had the opportunity to take time. Attack is the best defense.”
Tadej Pogačar left his rivals reeling with a massive move on stage 8 of the Tour de France.
— VeloNews (@velonews) July 3, 2021
Barring disaster, Pogačar will only grow stronger as he hits his physical prime in the next five years. He is already the best climber and nearly the best — if not the best — time trialer in the peloton.
For 2022, UAE Team Emirates will come back with an even deeper team, with some brawlers to protect Pogačar’s flanks on the flats.
At 32, Roglič still has a few good years ahead of him, no doubt about it.
Riders often win the Tour in their early 30s — Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas all won at 32 — and Cadel Evans won Australia’s first and only yellow jersey a decade ago at 34.
Of all the current favorites, Roglič remains the most versatile. As he revealed early in this Tour, he can match Pogačar’s explosively on the line, on the climbs, and be close in the time trials.
Yet Pogačar is quickly emerging as a class of his own.
The big question for any top GC rider is if they’ve topped out on their potential. Can Roglič get any better? Probably not. It’s likely he hit his apogee in the 2020 Tour, and Pogačar is simply better genetically wired to win grand tours.
The peloton could well be entering the Pogačar Era — some say we’re already in it — and if that’s the case, Roglič and everyone else could be on the sidelines for the next few years.
Of course, everyone will keep fighting and scratching. That’s what they get paid to do.
And luck runs both ways. Maybe Roglič’s bad luck in 2021 will be Pogačar’s next year.
Roglič better hurry up. Pogačar isn’t waiting for anyone.