Road

Analysis: Why Primož Roglič is the best cyclist in the world

Though he fell short at the Tour de France, Primož Roglič is going to be hard to beat in 2021.

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Even if Primož Roglič doesn’t win this Vuelta a España, the Slovenian will hold perhaps an even higher honor — the best elite men’s pro road racer in the world.

Sure, others have won more prestigious prizes — look no further than Tadej Pogačar and the Tour de France — but the 31-year-old Slovenian confirmed in 2020 he is the best, most consistent, and most successful rider in the sport.

The Jumbo-Visma captain came within a whisker of becoming the first Slovenian to win the Tour. Though Slovenian hit that milestone in the form of Pogačar and his final time-trial haymaker, it’s Roglič who is the new benchmark in the peloton.

Since his belated but quick rise in the peloton — please, no ‘Did you know he used to be a ski jumper?’ jokes, OK? — Roglič has emerged as the most consistent grand tour riders in the pack.

Roglič is a natural-born winner. And despite his sometimes-awkward media presence, it’s what he does on the bike that counts.

Since his grand tour debut in 2016, he’s won a stage in all seven grand tours he’s started. He’s won or finished on the podium in the last three he’s started, and he’s holding a slender but defensible lead going into the Vuelta’s final mountain stage after winning four stages in this edition so far. No other grand tour rider comes close to that consistency.

And what makes Roglič even more engaging is that he is capable of winning across all terrain, making him by far the most versatile rider in the pack right now. He can win time trials and climbing stages, but he’s also capable of winning out reduced bunch sprints. And as he showed this year, able to win a race at monument distance, by pipping the world champion at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in September. Only teammate Wout van Aert is as well rounded.

Of his 46 career pro wins, 12 are against the clock. Three more are one-day races, including his first-career monument with Liège, while 11 are GC titles in one-week or longer stage races, including his first grand tour win at the Vuelta last year.

What’s most impressive about Roglič in 2020, and what raises him above most of his peers, is how he bounced back from what could have been a crippling loss at the Tour de France. Instead of stepping away from racing, he turned any frustration or disappointment into his pedals. Revenge came quick at Liège, and he’s well on his way at this Vuelta of burying any lingering angst over the Tour near miss.

Professional racing is often two steps forward, one step back. So long as there is upward progression, Roglič’s future remains bright. He has more than confirmed his mental fortitude and demonstrated his professionalism throughout this very challenging season, both on and off the bike. And his cool ability to shrug off the Tour disappointment revealed a depth of character and maturity that will serve him well in the coming years.

And though the Tour has so far eluded him, the Roglič Era could already well be among us. Pogačar and Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) might have something to say about that — but it’s Roglič, surrounded by the ever-stronger Jumbo-Visma “yellow jackets” — who looks to be entering his prime.

Pogačar and Bernal both have that yellow jersey that Roglič so desperately wants, yet it’s Roglič who continues to impose his will on just about any race he starts. If Roglič can finish off his Vuelta defense on a high in Madrid on Sunday, it’s setting the stage for what should be an even more thrilling 2021 season.