The cycling year could have ended badly for Primoz Roglic. He almost lost the Vuelta a España in a similarly devastating way as the Tour de France last summer. But sometimes there are only 24 seconds between disappointment and happiness.
Richard Carapaz attacked the overall leader on the penultimate stage on Saturday up to La Covatilla. Roglic couldn’t keep up, had to let Carapaz go. And for a short time the picture of the Tour de France flashed up again: Roglic, how he loses second by second to Tadej Pogacar in the time trial and has to take off the yellow jersey at the end. But this time it turned out differently. Roglic kept the deficit within limits and defended Carapaz for 24 seconds in the overall standings. At the finish he clenched his fist in relief.
“I didn’t always have everything under control, but I did my job. I didn’t doubt it,” Roglic said later. He was back in control on Sunday. On the last stage towards Madrid, Roglic was allowed to have all the photos taken of himself for which he had wanted to pose all year: arm in arm with his teammates, or how he lifts his bike into the sky, or how he is on the podium stands and pulls on the red jersey of the overall winner.
With the victory in the Tour of Spain, his second after 2019, Roglic ended one of the most successful years of his career. Although he did not win the Tour de France, the most important race of the year, over the entire season he was the strongest, because most consistent, cyclist. He won the Tour de l’Ain, a difficult preparatory race, followed by second place in the Tour of France, the victory at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and now in Spain. On about half of all his racing days he wore the jersey of the overall leader of a tour.
“He fought his way back after the disappointment about the lost Tour de France. He needed a moment for that,” said Jumbo-Vismas sporting director Grischa Niermann: “It was a long season and he was there from start to finish.” Roglic hasn’t had a real break from racing since the beginning of August. Round trips, one-day races and the World Cup, he went through everything.
So it’s no wonder that Roglic looked a little more tired than competitor Carapaz on the last stages of the Vuelta in the mountains. But already at the beginning of the Tour of Spain it became clear that Roglic might have learned his lesson from the Tour de France. Unlike in France, he started early with the attack on the overall victory, already on the first stage Roglic conquered red. In the meantime he gave up the jersey, but it became clear that Roglic is fighting for every bonus second, every time gain. The 31-year-old won four stages himself, especially in the time trial. That paid off in the end. Jumbo-Visma dominated the race again as a team, but this time also brought Roglic to the finish.
It cannot be taken for granted that Roglic will hit back after the hard defeat against Pogacar on the Planche des Belles Filles. After all, a lifelong dream was broken there for the time being. Not every professional can cope with such a defeat. Just think of the two-time Tour winner Laurent Fignon, who lost the Tour of France in 1989 by eight seconds and never really recovered from it.
The Vuelta as an encouragement
It is all the more clear that the Vuelta victory for Roglic is not only a consolation, but perhaps even an encouragement for the coming year. “I accepted second place on the tour,” said Roglic. But accepting doesn’t mean giving up. “I’m a competitor. When I start, I want to win. There are still great things waiting that I haven’t achieved yet.”
In terms of performance, Roglic is probably at the peak of his career. At the end of the year he will lead the world rankings as he did in 2019. “He’s amazing, he’s the best professional cyclist in the world,” enthused his young team-mate Jonas Vingegaard. And sports director Niermann said: “He is an absolute winner.”
Now Roglic will try to extend his performance peak as much as possible. The route of the Tour de France 2021 could suit him. The route is more balanced than this year, but still offers enough mountain stages and, above all, time trial kilometers, on which Roglic can show his strengths. “He can win races in different areas,” said sports director Niermann. Even in hilly terrain, Roglic should not be underestimated on the tour. In any case, rival Pogacar was not so happy about the somewhat flatter route.
However, a few months will pass before the tour. Now Roglic will celebrate first. “The more you win, the sooner you learn to enjoy it,” said Roglic. Accordingly, he is not only a winner, but also a connoisseur.