Culture

Slovenia’s Primož Roglič: Cyclist of the year

A phenomenal year for a phenomenal cyclist ends with the sport’s most prestigious award.

Slovenia’s Primož Roglič (pictured above) has been named as cyclist of the year by Vélo Magazine, the world’s leading cycling publication.

The Slovenian – who was pipped for the Tour de France title during the race’s penultimate stage, a time trial, by compatriot Tadej Pogačar – was nevertheless the sport’s outstanding rider in 2020, winning the Vuelta a España and the Liege-Bastogne-Liege classic as well as numerous individual stages of both Le Tour and La Vuelta.

“I want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to the people who voted for me. I understood that it was a jury of journalists from all over the world, that’s why it really touches me,” said Roglič on receiving the award. “Looking through the list of previous winners really brings home what a great honour this is.”

Latecomer

Roglič, now 30, came late to cycling.

An accomplished former ski jumper (he was part of the Slovenian team which won the World Junior Championship in 2007) he turned to professional cycling at the relatively advanced age of 23, never having fully recovered from a horrific fall in training for a ski jumping event in 2007.

Indeed, in a short film produced by his team Jumbo-Visma in 2018 to spread the word about their new star, Roglič makes no attempt to hide the fact that ski jumping was his first love.

“When I was growing up most of my life was spent on ski jumping hills,” he says. “My dream was of course to be the best in ski jumping. I didn’t even have a bike of my own until I was 21.”

The fall – which is included in the film – changed everything.

His former coach, Zvone Pograjc, says that while medical tests confirmed he had recovered both physically and mentally, “he couldn’t show that on the ski jump. Less talented ski jumpers had better results than he did.”

Roglič himself says he lost motivation. “I was 21 years old and not yet an Olympic or world champion. I thought it was time to change and move on.”

On a bike borrowed from a neighbour he entered local cycling races and began bombarding Slovenian teams with emails. One, Adria, gave him a shot. His first major victories came in 2014, a year after turning professional: the Slovenia – Croatia one day race, and a stage of the Tour of Azerbaijan. An even more successful season in 2015 – he won the Tour of Azerbaijan and the Tour of Slovenia – roused the interest of bigger teams who ride on the World Tour.

Jumbo-Visma, then known as LottoNL-Jumbo, signed him.

First victory

His first grand tour – the Giro d’Italia – came in 2016. Although he finished only 58th overall, he won the ninth stage. A year later he was selected for Jumbo’s Tour de France team, and won stage 17. He also placed second in the World Time Trial Championship.

There were more victories in 2018, but the real breakthrough came in 2019: overall victory in the Vuelta a Espana. Roglič finished two minutes and 16 seconds ahead of the then world champion, the veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, with his compatriot Pogačar finishing third. Pogačar also won the white jersey for the best young rider, having claimed three stage victories en route to Madrid.

Roglič was the hot favourite for this year’s Tour – delayed until September due to Covid-19 restrictions – and led for much of the three week race. However, he performed unexpectedly poorly in the final time trial, and slipped to second overall as his countryman Pogačar sped to victory.

“I wasn’t at my best day, he was a lot better,” Roglič said after the time trial. “He was in a different world to me, he really deserved his win.

“I gave everything I had, but today it wasn’t enough. For sure I’m disappointed with the result but on the other hand I can be proud of my second place.”

Slovenian domination

Victory in La Vuelta a month later was some consolation.

Following his last-ditch defeat at the Tour, however, there must have been a sense of deja vu for the Slovenian as his defence of his Vuelta title came down to a solo battle against Richard Carapaz of Ecuador in the final kilometres of the final climb of the race.

This time, however, Roglič was able to hang on, and rode into Madrid the next day as the winner of the last race of a much-interrupted professional cycling season.

The two Slovenian riders are expected to put the Tour de France at the centre of their ambitions next season, although it’s likely that both will also eye victory at the Tokyo Olympics road race.

What’s certain is that the pair look set to dominate men’s cycling for years to come.

Photo: Team Jumbo-Visma

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