Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) can look back at the 2019 season with several reasons to be satisfied. From a maiden Grand Tour win to finishing the year atop the UCI rankings, the Slovenian was, without question, the most consistent stage racer on the planet last year.
However, the 30-year-old’s proudest moment came not when he won the Vuelta a España but when he finished third at the Giro d’Italia in May. According to the 2020 Tour de France contender, his podium in Milan outranked every other result in the calendar year due to the number of obstacles and setbacks that he had to overcome.
At Jumbo-Visma's December training camp, Roglic sat down with Cyclingnews to address his 2019 season and his plans for this year.
Roglic headed to the Giro d’Italia last May in a rich vein of form after winning the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Tour de Romandie in quick succession. His Giro began perfectly when he pulled on the maglia rosa after winning the opening stage time trial, and he sat second overall until a crash on stage 13 saw him drop to third.
He would later slip to fourth, before wrestling the final podium spot behind Richard Carapaz and Vincenzo Nibali on the final time trial stage. Along with his crash, Roglic had to deal with a number of other factors, including a lack of experience in leading a Grand Tour team, being tactically exposed by Carapaz’s attacks, rookie mistakes from within his Jumbo-Visma team car, and a bout of illness.
"It’s hard to say what was wrong," Roglic told Cyclingews when asked if he may have come into the Giro too hot before his form eventually tailed off.
"I still finished on the podium. I wasn’t well, though, and I had problems with my stomach. That was the main problem and we learned a lot from that, too, with what to eat. I just never felt hungry from stage 13 onwards.
"I’m actually a lot more proud of that third place than winning the Vuelta, let's just say that. Winning is okay, but it’s not a big deal. To finish on the podium at the Giro, after all the problems that we had as a team, was a bigger achievement. I had to fight with myself at the Giro. I had to fight more. I never really thought about quitting the race because it was my goal from the start of the year. There was simply no option of leaving the race.
“It was really cool to be immediately good and from there you just don’t want to be bad. Okay, we had some problems at the Giro but we still managed to somehow have an incredible season."
Roglic took time off after the Giro, with just the Slovenian national time trial championships in June on his programme before his return to action at the Vuelta.
In a similar scenario to Simon Yates' Giro and Vuelta experiences from 2018, Roglic put into practice all the hard lessons he had learned in May to come away from Spain with his first Grand Tour success.
Unlike at the Giro, Roglic only took the lead after the first time trial on stage 10 but he was resolute in his defense of the leader’s jersey, holding off the challenges from both Alejandro Valverde and compatriot Tadej Pogacar.
"It was a big success and we all fought for what we achieved," he told Cyclingnews.
"When you start off in cycling you begin with the idea of one day winning a Grand Tour and last year was the first time I began the season with the real goal of winning one. I managed to do this and it was just beautiful.
"I learned a lot at the Giro. It was the first Grand Tour where I arrived as a leader. At that moment I was winning and it was no secret that I wanted to win the race but at times it wasn’t easy for me or the team. I think that we immediately learned some things from that race and will use that experience for new races. Every day, every stage you learn about racing and tactics and you’re always looking to improve from the bad moments that you have."
Tour de France goals
With another year at WorldTour level under his belt, Roglic heads into 2020 with genuine ambitions of winning the Tour de France in July. Jumbo-Visma have decided on stacking their line-up with their best Grand Tour riders as they look to dislodge Team Ineos' dominance. Roglic is pragmatically the Dutch outfit’s best hope.
New signing Tom Dumoulin hasn’t raced since June due to a knee injury and is still on the comeback trail, while Tour de France podium finisher Steven Kruijswijk will split his efforts between the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España.
For Roglic, the idea of lining up with Dumoulin on his own team is not a problem, and the Slovenian sees advantages in the Dutch rider joining from Team Sunweb.
"For me, it’s a good thing because the stronger the guys are, the stronger the team is," he said.
"I don’t think it complicates things. We all want to win but we also want to be in the winning team. I have no problem working for him and there are no problems if he works for me. I think him coming raises the bar for the rest of the team."
In terms of his own Tour aspirations, Roglic is confident but far from arrogant.
"I think I can win, I wish to win. Everyone dreams of winning the Tour but I want to be part of the winning team. It’s still quite far away to see how it will be when we start but I’m looking forward to it. You just have to be the best of the guys who are there. It’s quite simple."