As a journalist and as a bike fan, I’ve found it hard to appreciate Primož Roglič. The Slovenian is completely devoid of expression when he races and never appears to struggle. He’s almost robot-like.
When he wins, and he has done a lot of winning over the last two seasons, his press conferences are something of a trial, both for him and the journalists asking the questions. It’s not that he’s not forthcoming, because he always gives a response to every query, in what is of course not his first language. It’s the fact that the impassive mask remains in place and, as a consequence, it’s hard to gauge Roglič’s personality and to warm to him.
Prior to his press conferences at this Tour, of which there have been many up to now, journalists can be seen rolling their eyes. The numbers attending them have gradually tailed off, not that this will bother Roglič. Many have opted to get their Jumbo-Visma insights from the more voluble and insightful members of the team, notably Tom Dumoulin, Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss and George Bennett.
Yet, I’ve endeavoured to sit in on Roglič’s press conferences whenever work commitments have allowed. This is partly because I believe that if a rider has made himself available after going to his physical limits for five hours or more, the least I can do is listen to what he has to say and, on occasion, ask a question or two.
It’s also down to an unusual encounter I had that involved Roglič’s wife, Lora Klinc, at the finish of the second stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné on the Col de Porte, above Grenoble that led to me seeing ‘Rogla’ in a very different way.
The Jumbo-Visma rider had won the stage and taken the yellow jersey that day. In the aftermath, riders came through the mixed zone at the finish, telling the press about their day. Chris Froome was in the midst of doing so when lightning flashed and, within a second, a huge crack of thunder reverberated around the tight valley.
I quickly headed for the car with two colleagues. Huge spots of rain began to spatter on the road. Within moments of reaching the car, it was torrential. We drove back towards the finish, parking up by the roadside barriers just beyond the line, watching riders still coming through in ones and twos.
The rain turned to hail, marble-sized pieces. Hammered by it, riders were crossing the line and taking shelter in the covered VIP area. On the other side of us, fans huddled under a gazebo that hadn’t been designed for this kind of onslaught. I caught the eye of a young woman, clutching a small child and on the verge of tears.
Seeing her desperation and fright, I waved her towards our car, signalling to her to get in the back. She jumped in and a man, her brother it turned out, handed her young boy to her. For the next few minutes, the hail was so loud, there was no point in talking.
As it eased we chatted, inevitably, about the weather. We talked about other storms we’d been caught in, and she brought her last year’s Vuelta stage into Andorra. I’d been in that one too, that time with my kids, all of us freaked out by the intensity of the rain, and the rocks and rubble it has washed onto the road.
It soon became apparent that the our unexpected guests were well connected to the Jumbo-Visma team. The LCL lionceau that her son was collecting was one clue. Her shout of, “There’s the Panzerwagen! Thank God he’s OK,” as Tony Martin emerged from the hail to cross the line was another.
The rain stopped and, as we had by now realised, Mrs Roglič got out with her son and went off to find her car. She left us with a very different perspective on Primož, one much more sympathetic.
Since then, I’ve read an awful lot about the Jumbo leader and continued to warm to him. The story of his ski-jumping past has been endlessly told, but less so his determination to transform himself from a winter sports hopeful into a Tour de France champion. Although some of the skills that he learned when launching himself off 90-metre jumps were quickly transferable to bike racing, a canny sense of balance and a lack of nerves among them, Roglič would often end races starving hungry because he couldn’t reach into his jersey pockets to get his food without falling or causing someone else to.
He crashed frequently, but his focus never wavered. And, ultimately, that is the essence of Primož Roglič. He’s not interested in anything that doesn’t help him along the path to winning the Tour. When training at home in Slovenia, he goes out early in the morning to avoid any attention. When local riders try to join him, he doesn’t interact with them. Talking to the press is a similar distraction.
Over the eight years he’s been racing a bike, he’s worked out his calculating style, marking his rivals, darting past them as the finishing line nears with a blistering turn of speed. He may not be as flamboyant as Tadej Pogačar or Thibaut Pinot, but that won’t matter a jot to him. He’s worked out what’s most effective for him and for winning the Tour.
He showcased the knowledge and nous he’s built up on the Col de la Loze today, relying on his team to put him in the position to beat his rivals and then completing the task. Although Miguel Ángel López was too good for him, the Jumbo leader did exactly what he needed to by gaining time on all of his most dangerous rivals. In doing so, he showed that he’s the Tour’s strongest man, its likely winner.
Having ticked off this stage, he’s one step closer to the goal that he’s had for eight years. Barring misfortune or what would now be a hugely unexpected jour sans, he will be a worthy winner of one the most extraordinary Tours in history. I’ll be pleased to see him do it, and I suspect we’ll see him crack a smile when he does.
Photo: © SWpix.com