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Commentary: Primož Roglič finally opens up

Known for his sphinx-like public persona, Primož Roglič finally sheds light on his feelings from the 2020 Tour de France.

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Pro cycling’s least-chatty superstar Primož Roglič gave an unusually revealing interview this week to French newspaper l’Equipe

Roglič spent early January up in the French ski resort town of Tinges, and judging by his Instagram page, he and his family had a wonderful time exploring the winter fun in the Alps. Whether or not he also spent his vacation meditating on his heartbreaking loss to Tadej Pogačar in last year’s Tour de France is something we will never know. What we do know, however, is that Roglič came into his l’Equipe interview with a — dare I say healthy — perspective on the loss, among other topics.

As you may have read, Roglič has a sphinx-like reputation with members of the international cycling press. During press conferences, he sticks to the script and regularly offers up single sentences, or even single words, as answers. He steers clear of even the weakest of controversial topics, and gives absolutely no hints to his emotions. What’s Roglič really thinking? It’s anyone’s guess, really.

That wasn’t the case in the l’Equipe interview — and may I be the first to congratulate Mr. Roglič on his newfound skill of divulging emotion and character depth to a reporter. Because the answers that Roglič presented in this interview offer hints of a well-adjusted person who has a very healthy view of his successes and failures. Roglič, as we all know, is an incredible physical specimen. Has he also achieved self-actualization? Perhaps.

Come, let us overanalyze his interview with l’Equipe: 

His Tour de France defeat:

Defeat was brutal, devastating. But more for the people around me than for me. I’m someone who likes to keep moving forward, I don’t get hung up on a result. If I look back at the Tour, while second place was frustrating at the time, it’s still a great result. I told my teammates that our victory showed how strong we were as a team, our combined strength and the way we controlled the race. That was what we wanted to do before the start and that is what we managed to put in place. Of course, I didn’t win but sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. When you’ve done everything you can, you have to accept it.”

That I should have grabbed a few seconds in several moments during the race. But it would never have been enough to take nearly two minutes on Pogačar. I prefer to remember that I fought for every meter of the race.

My take: Roglič has either spent dozens of hours in the therapist’s chair, or he’s naturally the most chill dude out there. His 2020 defeat was agonizing and public, and it came after he looked untouchable for three weeks. You’d think Roglič would still be completely flummoxed or broken up about the ordeal.

Friends and contacts of Laurent Fignon say he grumbled about his 1989 Tour defeat for decades. Yet here is Roglič, just four months later, saying he’s bummed out, but getting over it in a way you might get over a high school breakup. And he’s right about a few important details. Sure, Roglič could have gobbled up a few seconds here and there during the race — think about stage 9 over the Peyresourde when he let Pogačar go. But nothing he could have done would erase those two minutes Pogačar got on him at La Planche des Belles Filles.

Plus, Jumbo-Visma did boss around the peloton and showed the cycling world that Ineos was no longer the top dog. It’s a consolation prize that, when viewed through rose-colored glasses, is all the more important to helping Roglič move on with his life.

Roglič looked untouchable for three weeks. Photo: James Startt Photo: James Startt

His quiet personality within the team:

I came from such an individual sport, where you are completely focused on yourself, where you think a lot about the mental aspect, your feelings, your technique. Cycling is much more collective. I had to learn that from others. I’m still trying to figure out how to be a good leader and I have to work on how to get my guys around me. It’s not very natural for me. For example: In the early days, on days off, the guys get together, go out for coffee, chat and laugh. But I preferred to be alone, to ride alone. At first, I didn’t bother to talk about it and the guys thought I didn’t like them, they thought I felt special, that I focused on myself.

My take: This is so relatable, right? How many times have you had that coworker or teammate or classmate who sticks to himself and doesn’t hang with the crew, and your initial impression is: Gawd, he must be so stuck up! Then, it turns out the guy is just shy or insecure — something we all struggle with at some point.

This is my favorite of Roglič’s answers because it sheds light on a valuable aspect of his personality. He views himself as a work in progress, and he’s working on his personality to become a better leader, even if being the big man on the bus doesn’t come naturally to him. Again, it’s relatable — we’re all just out here, doing our best, trying to be better people, even Tour de France runner-up and Primož Roglič. Again, I’m overanalyzing here, but what if Roglič’s robotic public persona is just, you know, him being shy or self-conscious?

Slovenia go one-two on GC.
Slovenia went one-two on the GC after stage 13. Photo: Anne-Christine Poujoulat – Pool/Getty Images

What drives him

I love what I do. I’m 31 and I know it won’t last forever. I want to take advantage of the moment when I’m on form, I don’t want to let myself down. When the Tour ended, I told myself that I had worked too hard, that I couldn’t stop there. I wanted more. I don’t burden myself with questions like that, if I’m going to win again or what. I want to be No. 1, but in truth, what I like most is the build-up to it all. How do I reach my limits? How to push my teammates, my staff?

It’s actually very harmful to have only victory as a goal. If you are second, you are finished, you no longer find the strength to start all over again. It prevents you from enjoying the preparation. Me, I’ll be super happy if next season I can improve by 0.5 percent.

My take: OK, we hear this all the time from athletes, and  also from Aerosmith lyrics: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” Hey, there’s a reason why someone wrote that in your high school yearbook — it’s a healthy perspective to have. It’s an especially good one to have in pro cycling since the process involved is so demanding and all-encompassing, and the results are so fickle — and the gap between victory and defeat is so tiny.

It’s also worth viewing this answer through the lens of Tom Dumoulin’s decision to step away from the sport. You need to love and accept the process — the training camps, diet regimen, injuries, stress, interviews, criticism, etc. — because those elements happen every day, while the Tour de France is just 21 days out of the year. It’s also worth noting that Roglič realizes the fleeting nature of dominance in pro cycling. He’s crushing it today, but that window can close at any moment. The fact that Roglič recognizes and appreciates that — and he still enjoys the process — makes him a guy to cheer for in any race.

Again, I applaud Roglič for opening up to l’Equipe. I hope there’s more of this in his future.