Primož Roglič finished first and second in two of this year's Grand Tours but the Slovenian and his Jumbo-Visma team have no intention of dialling back on their expectations as they prepare for another assault on the marquee stage races of 2021.
Roglič, who narrowly missed out on Tour de France success after being edged out in the final time trial at La Planche des Belles Filles, bounced back to defend his Vuelta a España crown and will head into next season as the team’s likely leader at the Tour.
However, while the team have taken time to celebrate their success in the Vuelta and in the UCI team and rider rankings, director Merijn Zeeman knows that next year will provide even tougher challenges.
"For sure Primož has another chance and for the next few years he’ll be at the top of his game but we also know that we’re going to have very strong opponents around us. There are some stars rising throughout and it’s going to be a big battle but I also believe that Primož has developed a lot, and as a team we’re on the move too and learning," Zeeman told Cyclingnews.
"This is a new situation for us too. We won the Vuelta last year and learned how to control a race. For us, it’s a constant learning process and we’re getting better and better but this is not the end. If we can continue to grow we can fight for the Grand Tours. We have two in the bag but now we want more."
Roglič led the Tour de France for 10 days this year and went into the final time trial as the favourite, but on the slopes of the final climb of the race he crumbled and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) took the win in dramatic style. For Roglič it was the lowest point of his short career and many wondered if he would return to racing before the new year.
However, he bounced back almost immediately with sixth in the World Championships road race, victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and then four stage wins and the overall title at the Vuelta.
Zeeman, who has worked with Roglič since the Slovenian moved to the team in 2016, believes that his Vuelta win was his best yet, especially given the context of what had happened at the Tour de France.
"Last year was his first Grand Tour win and he came in after the Giro when he was sick. For him, that was relaunch in some ways but he was also very well prepared last year for the Vuelta with an altitude camp. He didn’t race before the Vuelta so he was fresh and at his best level there but is there an athlete in the world who just had the biggest disappointment of his career and then won a Grand Tour and a Monument? I think that’s remarkable," Zeeman said.
"I already had a lot of respect for him and being part of his journey has been a privilege. He goes to races and he’s constantly learning, always writing things down and in terms of an athlete who has a mindset for growing and improving, he’s the best example I’ve ever seen.
"After the Dauphiné, he really was in a lot of pain from his crash. I was there with him in Tinges and I saw with my own eyes how he fought his way through that injury. Just for him to be at the Tour de France was a victory. He has real mental strength."
According to Zeeman, the wounds and hurt caused by the Tour de France loss were still raw, even at the Vuelta where Roglič lost the lead twice and almost came undone on the final mountain stage when second-placed rider Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) launched a last-ditch attack.
"Everything was focused on the Tour de France this year, so much energy, not just in the training but also in the group dynamic and in the cohesion. That was such a big goal and of course, how it ended, it felt like a trauma, but you can’t imagine how big that disappointment was," said Zeeman.
"And that feeling is still there. It was only about a month and a half ago. That feeling is still there and when we were coming close to the last weekend at the Vuelta, and Primož was no longer at his best anymore, we knew that it wasn’t ideal. But we continued racing with passion and motivation.
"Of course, there were some nerves in that final weekend but we had a really strong team and with the way we could control stages and bring Primož to the finishes, Saturday, in the end, was a big relief. It showed that even though we weren’t at our best anymore we still had the drive and the motivation and the teamwork. We wanted to bring it home, badly. In sporting terms maybe this was a bigger achievement than when you’re simply the strongest and it’s something to be proud of."
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