His telemark podium salute aside, Primoz Roglic’s self-containment is such that he makes Miguel Indurain seem like Conor McGregor. In Espelette last July, for instance, after Roglic had lost his place on the Tour de France podium in the final time trial, journalists hurried to his team van expecting to interview a man overcome by the emotion of falling short at the last. Instead, they found Roglic as composed as ever. "I did what I could," he shrugged.
Roglic is just as inscrutable in victory, a quality that may yet serve him well on this Giro d’Italia. Winner of both the Bologna and San Marino time trials, the Jumbo-Visma rider lies second on general classification, 1:50 down on maglia rosa Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) but already with significant buffers over his direct rivals for final overall victory.
During his rest day press conference in the Hotel Meeting in Riccione on Tuesday, Roglic dealt with all inquiries about his fast start to this Giro with his usual courteous but downbeat inflection. After 10 minutes politely batting away questions on the race itself, Roglic was faced with a more existential sort of a query. "You are so serious," a local reporter said. "Why do you never smile?"
Roglic smiled shyly as he responded. "Maybe I just look like that during the race or when I’m focusing before a time trial," he said. "Then I don’t see any space for smiling or something, I’m just really focused. But normally, I think I smile enough."
Nine days into this Giro, mind, Roglic has ample reason to smile. He holds a lead of 1:44 over Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), 1:55 over Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), 3:46 over Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) and 4:29 over Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana). Another rival, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), has already left the race, having been forced out by his crash in Frascati on stage 4.
Asked if he had expected such a large early advantage, Roglic joked in his own low-key manner that he would have preferred to be half an hour ahead. "You always want to be as good as possible,” he said. "But you have to be happy with the position that you have, so I am pleased with the position I have now."
The Giro has yet to face a mountain pass worthy of the name, with the race not going more than 1,000 metres above sea level until stage 12 from Cuneo to Pinerolo. The latter part of the race, however, is set to be a brute, from Friday’s haul up the Nivolet to the Croce d’Aune on the final weekend. Speaking in Riccione on Monday morning, Nibali expressed admiration for Roglic’s Giro to this point but suggested the Slovenian’s armoury had some chinks that might be exploited in the high mountains.
"At times, he has shown some small gaps in his climbing," Nibali said, according to Il Corriere della Sera. "Last year, at Il Lombardia, he attacked first and then went into crisis. At the Tour on the Alpe d’Huez stage where I fell, he was always on my wheel even though I was in pain."
Roglic being Roglic, he absorbed Nibali’s comments with something close to indifference. "We will see. It’s still a really, really long race," he said. "I don’t want to say about anybody what his good and bad points are. We will all face each other. We’ll see how it goes. So far, I’m still healthy and in one piece and looking forward to the next days."
A more obvious hole is apparent in Roglic’s Jumbo-Visma team. Already short of Robert Gesink, who missed the Giro after breaking his collarbone and pelvis at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Jumbo-Visma lost Laurens De Plus to illness on stage 7. The Belgian was slated to be a key lieutenant in the mountains of the third week.
"For sure it’s a big loss; he’s a really, really strong rider and we all would like to have him," Roglic said. "Unfortunately, he’s not here now, but I think every team has problems in the race or will have problems in the race. But I don’t want to think about it, I just want to go day-by-day and think about the problems that are there in that moment."
In the moment
Roglic’s default setting is restrained. Last week, when two of his compatriots, Borut Bozic and Kristijan Koren, were suspended by the UCI for their implication in the Operation Aderlass blood doping inquiry, Roglic limited himself to describing it as "sad for Slovenian cycling". In San Marino on Sunday evening, he was cautious about his lead on Nibali et al: "It's better to have some advantage than a disadvantage."
On Monday’s rest day, Roglic suggested the next two stages of the Giro ought to be straightforward before quickly correcting himself. "I don’t really expect these two days to be easy either. You never know," he said. He was non-committal, too, about the prospect of snow in the high mountains. "I think we’d all prefer to have nice weather."
"Mostly I’m thinking about the present time," Roglic said later. "I’m mostly in the moment. Now I’m here in the press conference. Tomorrow I’m on the road."
Like Indurain before him, he didn’t need to explain which he preferred.