Primoz Roglic’s stock rises with almost every week-long stage race he competes in, such has been his consistency in the format over the last two seasons. But the 28-year-old LottoNL-Jumbo rider remains apprehensive when discussing his Grand Tour ambitions.
On Wednesday, he rode into the lead at the Tour of Romandie by virtue of Michael Matthews losing contact with the main field on the final climb. Roglic in yellow has become the norm, a default, and no one appeared to bat an eyelid as the 28-year-old quietly made his way to the podium to pick up another leader’s jersey.
Romandie, of course, is far from over, and Roglic will have to defend a slender lead against a high-calibre field that includes Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing), Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing). There is still the 9.9-kilometre uphill time trial and the mountain stage through Sion to come, but the fresh memory of how the LottoNL-Jumbo rider swatted away Nairo Quintana (Movistar), and subsequently handled everything Mikel Landa (Movistar) could throw at him in Pais Basque earlier in the season, will concern his rivals here in Switzerland.
"The whole team did a really good job, and then at the finish, in the end, it was quite easy," Roglic said at the finish of stage 1 in Delmonte.
LottoNL-Jumbo rode a tactically astute race, dropping the sprinters on the hilly terrain before seeing off the race leader on the final key ascent. Omar Fraile (Astana) won the stage but it mattered little for Roglic. The Slovenian was third in the opening prologue and with Tom Bohli (BMC Racing) dropping down the standings, Roglic has the new leader’s jersey. Dennis is second, on the same time, with Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) third at four seconds.
"It's hard to plan when you take the jersey because a lot can happen," Roglic said. "Of course, this is a really nice to thing to have happened, and today we showed that we’ve a really strong team. I’m confident for the coming days. I thought that today wouldn’t be too stressful, but in the end it was full gas racing from the beginning.
"From now everyday is going to be hard. Today was far from easy. The mountain time trial will show the biggest differences, but then we have the big mountain stage the next day. I’ll try and defend it until the end."
Should Roglic win his second stage race of the year, the questions surrounding his long-term goals will once again come under scrutiny. His unique path into cycling, and his late age at developing into an all-rounder, come with their advantages. However, those bedding in years afforded to typical neo-pros are not available for those who moved into the WorldTour at 26. Last year’s Grand Tour experiment was a success with a maiden Tour de France stage win, but if he is to take the next step in his career it must start this season or next.
"It’s true, and we’ve seen that we can manage the week-long stage races, but until now I’ve only done two Grand Tours, and you need to see them, you need to race them and experience them. Then you’ll know what you need in order to fight the best guys in Grand Tours."
When asked what he needed to do in order to make that next step into a Grand Tour rider, Roglic stressed that there was no immediate pressure. Time, he feels, is still on his side.
"It's not just a challenge for me, it’s one for the whole team. Last year at the Tour I just went for stages, so I wasn’t really fighting for the overall, and looking for the all problems that I’d need to overcome in order to fight for it. My focus this year is still one-week races, and I’m managing that really well."