Primoz Roglic: From ski jumper to Giro d'Italia contender

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) was a relative unknown in cycling circles when he stepped up to the WorldTour in 2016 but three years on, he will start this year's Giro d’Italia as one of the favourites for overall victory.

Roglic’s journey into cycling has been well documented in the past three years. The 29-year-old Slovenian turned to the sport in 2012 after retiring from a career in ski jumping. He made an early impact with a stage win in the time trial at the 2016 Giro d'Italia and has since quickly ascended the ranks.

Last year proved to be a breakthrough season with overall victory at the Vuelta al Pais Vasco and the Tour de Romandie, followed by a fourth place at the Tour de France. Last week he won the UAE Tour, leading from start to finish after Jumbo-Visma won the opening team time trial. He and Jumbo-Visma were always in control, with Roglic beating Tom Dumoulin to win the second mountain stage to secure overall victory ahead of Alejandro Valverde. 

As Roglic begins his fourth season in the WorldTour as leader of Jumbo-Visma for Giro d'Italia, he is ambitious and keen to push his limits.

“I’m happy, and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved,” Roglic tells Cyclingnews. “Of course, we’ve worked hard, and I think that, like all sportsmen, we don’t think so much about the things that we have achieved, or look back. Instead, we're focus on looking forward, and what we want – how far we can go and how good we can be, and it’s the same for me.”

The UAE Tour was Roglic’s third WorldTour victory and confirmation of his growing talent. As his palmares grows, so does the expectation upon him.

Roglic is quiet and reserved, and so has done his best to play down those expectations. Each new challenge, each major race, is a journey of discovery. The 2019 season is no different for the Jumbo-Visma rider as he embraces the role of leadership for a Grand Tour. 

“Learning is something that I hope I’ll always do; you’re always learning in every race that you do,” says Roglic. “For me, probably the nicest thing to discover last year was that I can win one-week races, and that I’m able to be competitive over three weeks, too.

“I already showed last year that I was racing with the best guys for almost the whole year, so I expect somehow to do the same this year. Now, I’m in a position where I can lead a group of guys for three weeks at the Giro, which is again something new. I’m always looking forward to new things, and to see how it’ll go. It’s a new challenge.”

Prior to the Giro d'Italia, Roglic will ride Tirreno-Adriatico, before attempting to defend his title at the Tour de Romandie. his time trialing an climbing skills make him a natural contender for both races.

Roglic leads a select chase group off the Col d'Aubisque at the 2018 Tour de France (Getty Images)

Taking on the Giro d'Italia

Roglic will ride both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France this season – the first time that he’s ridden two three-week races in the same season. The Giro d'Italia will be the main priority, while he’ll play a support role for Steven Kruijswijk at the Tour de France.

At last year’s Tour, Roglic was second-in-command to Kruijswijk, and this year’s Giro will be the first time he’s had the opportunity to take sole leadership at a Grand Tour. The plentiful kilometres of time trialling at the Italian Grand Tour helped persuade Roglic to take a punt at the maglia rosa.

“It was quite an easy decision because, of course, this year’s Giro has three individual time trials. Obviously, I can ride time trials, so it makes sense to go there and try to see what we can do, and to have the opportunity to lead the team at that race," he explains.

“It will be super hard, as there are a lot of really long stages, with more than nine over 200km,” he says. “We all know the roads in Italy, and the finishes will be narrow, small roads and steep climbs. For sure, it’ll be a really tricky race. It will be a big challenge to be there, but I’ll try to compete with the best guys.”

It’s the first time that Roglic will ride the Italian Grand Tour since his debut in 2016. Jumbo-Visma (then LottoNL-Jumbo) took a risk putting Roglic into the race after he’d only stepped up from Continental level a few months before. However, he had shown plenty of promise in stage racing with wins at the Tour de Slovenie – ahead of Mikel Nieve – and the Tour d’Azerbaijan the previous season, and fifth at the Volta ao Algarve at the start of that season. The risk paid off, and after coming close to a victory in the opening stage, he won the 40km time trial in Chianti.

“It was the first Grand Tour that I did. It was incredibly hard. What can I say? I learned quite a lot from that Giro,” explains Roglic.

“We were also really close to winning it with Stevie at the end, but I think that is just a number. What counts the most is all the things that happened and what we felt during the Giro. It was nice, and if I look back now, it was the hardest Grand Tour that I’ve done.

“I guess quite a lot,” he says when asked how much he’s changed as a rider since that ride.

“It’s just different. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve improved physically, but have also learned a lot about riding in the peloton – learning how to compete with the best guys, and about where you have to be. For me, I think that’s been the biggest thing.”

While Roglic enjoyed relative anonymity back then, it’ll be a different story when he lines up for the start of the Giro d'Italia this May. This time, he’ll be among the favourites, alongside Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), who he beat at the UAE Tour last week.

The 2019 Giro d’Italia will be an entirely different prospect compare to 2016 and Roglic is now a very different rider. But he is keeping his feet on the ground when it comes to his personal expectations.

“Of course, you want to go higher and better, but we still have to be realistic,” Roglic tells Cyclingnews.

“It’s my first time going as a leader to a Grand Tour, so for sure I will learn a lot of things that will be useful in the future. I’ll just try to the best I can be for my team, and we’ll see where we are at the end. Everybody from the team, and of course I, will give 110 per cent, and, providing that happens, I’ll be happy.”

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