One of cycling’s strengths lies in its ability to tell stories. This week, the UCI WorldTour’s Tour de Romandie has welcomed defending champion Primož Roglič back to the roads of Switzerland. The Slovenian continues to amaze the world with his past as a top-level ski jumper and cycling fan who used to stand on the roadside watching the Giro d’Italia.
In many sports, past a certain age, it’s too late to perform at the highest level. However Roglič is proof that cycling can offer opportunities to those who haven’t raced or even trained on a bicycle in the U17, U19 and U23 categories. There’s an understandable logic in seeing a world-class runner like Michael Woods – who held national records – turn into a cyclist after injuries and surgery. But Roglič’s previous activity had nothing to do with endurance sport. “My physical preparation for ski jumping was based on static exercises with balancing balls or trampolines,” he explains.
He was a Junior World Champion in his teens but quit when he realised he wasn’t going to be one of the 20 or so athletes who can make a living from ski jumping, although it’s a very popular sport in his country and he continues to follow it closely. Roglič is also famous because of the video of his horrible crash on the ski jump of Planica. The Trbovlje native took up cycling for his rehab but it’s a wrong to believe that he switched to cycling because of that accident: it occurred in 2007 and he continued competing as a ski jumper until January 2011.
Roglič led a normal life. He repaired lifts in shopping malls at night time, enjoyed cycling for leisure, borrowed money from his dad to buy a bike and wrote e-mails to cycling clubs because he was curious to see if he could do anything in that sport. That’s all part of his legend. So is his presence as a spectator at the Giro d’Italia in 2013 when the race came close to Slovenia. He went to watch the finale of stage 10 to Montasio, won by Rigoberto Uran ahead of Carlos Betancur, Vincenzo Nibali and Australia’s Cadel Evans. The image of the only Australian winner of the Tour de France imprinted itself in the memory of the then rookie with Adria Mobil, riding in the Continental ranks.
Only in 2016, would he join the UCI WorldTour following his overall successes in the Tour of Azerbaijan and the Tour of Slovenia which led to his coach recommending him to LottoNL-Jumbo’s Sport Director Frans Maassen. He also won a stage at high altitude in the 2015 Tour of Qinghai Lake in China.
Clearly Roglič took a very unconventional route into the world of professional cycling. Many viewers became aware of his abilities when he missed out on the pink jersey by just a hundredth of a second to Tom Dumoulin in the opening time trial of the Giro d’Italia in Apeldoorn (the Netherlands) in 2016. Nine days later he won the individual time trial in the Chianti vineyards in exceptional circumstances: on a spare bike at the eleventh hour, with no bidon and no power metre. He wasn’t thought to be in contention for a stage result… but the favourites started later in the rain on a very technical course and Roglič’s time remained the best.
He’s now the first ever Slovenian stage winner of the Tour de France (stage 17 to Serre-Chevalier in 2017 after summitting the Galibier alone in the lead, in front of newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron). Roglič also took both the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico overall early in 2019. Switching his focus back to the Giro d’Italia as a GC contender three years after his first participation, he’s convinced the Tour de Romandie remains a must in the season of a rider who equally loves climbing and time trialling.