"To allow my injuries to heal properly, we have decided that I won't start today."
The innocuous tweet from Jumbo-Visma before the start of stage 15 in Mende didn't seem to say much about the abandon of Primož Roglič, but like all PR statements it's more what it didn't say that will be discussed in the coming days.
The elephant in the room is Roglič's intended participation in the Vuelta a España, which starts in just under four weeks. He returns as defending champion. Somehow it feels like that has taken precedence over whatever role he could have played in defending Jonas Vingegaard's lead. I'm left wondering who the "we" are and why they think losing a rider of Roglič's class is a good decision.
It's not like he was utterly terrible on the day preceding the announcement - on stage 14 he had been part of the GC group that led into the third category climb before the blast up the Montée Jalabert. Though he has been struggling on stages which had a climb near the start, if he was in a really bad way after his crash on stage 5, he would never have come back at all. So his retirement strikes me as a bizarre choice. And that's exactly what it is.
When you see riders like Caleb Ewan struggling to make the time cut each day you can see what it means to participate in the Tour de France. It's the most important bike race, period. You don't just decide to stop unless you can't physically continue.
In the past, sprinters like Mario Cipollini would abandon before the mountains and rightly receive criticism for doing so - but Primož Roglič can climb despite his current injury. We saw that on the ascent of the Galibier when he was instrumental in the attacks that resulted in the dismantling of Tadej Pogačar later that day.
People talk of respecting the Tour and expect that it's a rider's duty to finish. That's why you see the gruppetto in survival mode - you don't stop unless you really can't continue. If you are eliminated - as Michael Mørkøv was after riding 202 kilometres in the heat alone - then so be it, but you go down fighting. If aren't capable of making the time limit and there are others with you then you tell them to go on so that they can continue. It hurts to not reach Paris - that's proven by the riders in tears handing over their race numbers when they stop on the roadside.
When you're part of the yellow jersey team, the duty to continue is amplified. It doesn't matter if you can only pull on the front of the peloton for ten kilometres or for a hundred, any contribution is welcome. If you're dropped as a result and have to survive in the last group or worse, then you do it with no complaints or criticism from the team. And you do it again the next day and the next. There's respect for the Tour and an obligation to defend the jersey, it's not a matter for discussion.
Who made that decision?
With Steven Kruijswijk crashing out the same day, Jumbo-Visma now find themselves with two really important riders missing just when the race comes in the crucial last week. Both of them could have been vital to Vingegaard in the circumstances where Pogačar mounts a long range attack. Something which he certainly will be considering more likely to succeed now that there are two fewer bodies to control or limit any time gaps. Even the act of fetching water, food or someone friendly temporarily by your side makes a difference. Kruijswijk was certainly capable of being near enough to the yellow jersey to lend a hand if needed.
Going back to the crucial meeting that had to have taken place, I do hope we learn more of who, what, where and when. That kind of decision is made at the highest level in a team. Directors Sportifs, General Manager, team doctor and, of course, the riders directly affected. Normally that would mean the yellow jersey would be consulted and maybe the main sponsors, too.
Vingegaard has no previous experience of leading a Grand Tour, never mind at the Tour de France, but Roglič does. Wouldn't it have made sense to use that knowledge, even if limited to only the briefings? He could have reassured everyone on what to do and how to cope with the pressures that are bound to come from Tadej Pogačar.
Pogačar's UAE team look strong again after the COVID-19 scares and to face up to them, the Dutch squad need everyone who could help. It doesn't matter if it is for five minutes or five hours.
The choice to withdraw Primož Roglič could really come back and bite Jumbo if Vingegaard has any kind of incident or weakness in the Pyrenees. We may be asking if a potential fourth title for Roglič at the Vuelta was worth Jonas Vingegaard losing out on his first Tour de France victory.
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