To grasp the logic behind Primož Roglič’s decision to let the Giro d’Italia maglia rosa go to another rider on stage seven, the easiest thing to do would be to check where the Jumbo-Visma rider was standing 45 minutes after the race finished.
Rather than being deep into a lengthy slog of post-race ceremonies and interviews, as he would have been 24 hours earlier and for the entire week before that as the pink jersey holder, Roglič was back at his bus, showered, changed, a dressing applied to a minor injury from an early crash, and ready to head for the hotel.
Rather than limiting the number of questions, as he sometimes did in his post-race interviews as leader, a relaxed-looking Roglič was even ready to step out of the team bus to briefly talk to a small group of reporters, including Cyclingnews, as to how he evaluated his new position on GC.
With Valerio Conti (UAE Team Emirates) holding the lead and Roglič now eleventh, 5:24 back, the Slovenian argued that "the important thing is to hold the pink jersey in Verona." And he showed no sign of being any less confident of his chances of doing that.
First questioned about his crash, Roglič said that he had come through relatively unscathed, even if his shorts were ripped and he had a minor cut on his upper right leg.
"I was there and couldn’t go anywhere, I hit my big ass and luckily it’s just that," Roglič said with a grin. “Normally, everything should be OK.
"We don’t know how it happened, suddenly there was a big pile of riders crashing into each others, consequences for the moment look like almost zero, his pants were torn," Jumbo-Visma director Addy Engels told Cyclingnews. "But it’s really on the surface doesn’t look too bad, the other guys seem OK."
As for the strategy, Roglič explained that "today the break was too strong and we would have spent too much energy to bring it back, so we let the jersey go.
"But the most important thing is who will have the leader’s jersey in Verona. And it's also OK because it’s a really long race and also having the jersey cost us quite a lot."
His confidence that he could regain the lead was high, Roglič said, although he added that he was not the only rider trying to take control of the race, and he was not overly troubled, either, at the hefty amount of time retaken by other potential contenders like Andrey Amador (Movistar Team), previously fourth in the 2016 Giro d’Italia, or Sam Oomen (Team Sunweb), who placed ninth last year.
"You can always say too much or too less, or whatever, but this is still really a long race and we're going to have to see how it goes," Roglič reflected.
As for Conti himself, the Italian’s track record in Grand Tours is solid, given he has completed seven - three Giros d’Italia, two with top 30 GC finishes and four Vueltas a España. His only victory was a stage win came a bizarre day at the 2016 Vuelta when the peloton went on a kind of strike, letting a break, including Conti, stay away by more than half an hour.
This time the margin was considerably less, with ‘only’ seven minutes between the head of the break and the bunch, but Engels confirmed that it could well be that Conti now stays in the lead until beyond the time trial, through the rest day and two flat stages which follow and into the mountains that follow.
"We think the gap is manageable, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it. But yes, it is quite a gap, and it will take a while to try to get it back," Engels said. "For sure it was not the plan to lose to the jersey today, you can’t plan that. But all the way back in Bologna, we said we’d have to see what the situation was like on a day-by-day basis.
“We wanted to keep the pink jersey, but if there was a day when we would end up spending too much energy to keep it, then we opted to let it go. We wanted to keep the gap at around five minutes, because there are some strong guys with GC history in there. If another team wanted to [chase and] go for the stage, then they could.
"But they didn’t so that was the situation in the end," Engels concluded – with a textbook, tactical loss, of the maglia rosa successfully carried out, whilst the team’s, and Roglic’s, longer-term perspective on the race remains totally unchanged.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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