Primoz Roglic Got A Little Push From A Pal In His Quest For Redemption
6:04 PM EDT on May 30, 2023
Roughly six kilometers up Monte Lussari, with the Giro d'Italia hanging in the balance, disaster struck Primoz Roglic. Giro organizers chose to end the race with a mountain time trial to maximize the drama, and the Slovenian gave the frothing crowds more than they could have expected when his chain slipped off with a few hard kilometers left to ride.
Roglic's challenge for the maglia rosa could have ended right there. His 26-second deficit to race leader Geraint Thomas before the stage meant that he'd have to show something special on the monstrous climb to win the race, and the critical mechanical failure at the biggest moment of the race necessitated that he ride more or less perfectly over the decisive 2.5 kilometers. He was up for the challenge, and he also got a timely assist from the right person at the right time, helping him win the Giro by 14 seconds and redeem a half-decade of unlucky failures at the Giro and Tour de France.
Immediately after Roglic's chain slipped off, it became clear he would have to fix his bike himself if he wanted to keep up his challenge on Thomas. The Jumbo-Visma mechanic trailing behind Roglic was a little slow in getting the replacement bike off the rack and to him on the steep slope. With Roglic and Thomas simultaneously climbing on different parts of the mountain at the same time, nobody really knew how much of an advantage Roglic had built up on Thomas. Two things stand out from the most important 20-second period in the entire Giro: Roglic remains eerily calm, looking around to see if there's another bike coming before simply re-shipping the chain and hopping back on; a man in a red shirt and a Jumbo-Visma cap sprints down the hill and arrives right as Roglic's mechanic pushes his rider up to restart his momentum. Roglic then got back into cadence and won the Giro by 16 seconds after smoking Thomas by 42.
"In a moment like this, when the pressure was so high—because he really had to do it, with all the people here from Slovenia—he stayed so calm," Jumbo sporting director Marc Reef said. "He just stepped up again and had the focus again and he continued again. He just did it. It’s crazy." Monte Lussari is on Italy's eastern border with Slovenia, so Roglic was cheered on by a frothing home crowd throughout the climb. The red-shirt man was a Slovenian fan as well, though his connection with Roglic ran far deeper than that. Mitja Meznar and Roglic have been friends since they were junior world champion-winning teammates as youth ski jumpers. Meznar continued to pursue ski jumping, competing at the 2010 Olympics, while Roglic made the switch to bike racing in 2012. They used to room together, train together, and they won the 2007 Junior World Ski Championships together in Tarvisio, Italy, the same town where the Stage 20 time trial kicked off. "It was completely subconscious," Meznar said. "When I saw that he was on the ground and had a mechanical, I was shocked."
Meznar's push may not have been the difference for Roglic, but 14 seconds is a razor-thin margin for a stage race that lasted three weeks. After the soggy, leaden first few weeks of the race, Roglic wasn't his sharpest in the Dolomites. He'd look lively one day, dangling off the front and challenging Thomas and Joao Almeida for seconds, only to lose his form the next day and spend hours fighting at the back of the pack of contenders. Nobody managed to land a big punch heading into the time trial, which suited Roglic, as he's been preparing for this particular stage for half a year.
"Primoz was already speaking to the team about this time trial since last winter," Reef said. "He came already in the winter to walk up. Since that day, he spoke about nothing else other than that. And I don’t know how many times he did the time trial at home on the rollers when he was coming back from his shoulder operation."
The last time a Grand Tour ended with a mountain time trial, Roglic was decked out in Tour de France yellow. He'd spent 11 days in the leader's jersey and held a comfortable lead when he rode onto the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles for what was supposed to be his coronation. Instead, his countryman Tadej Pogacar ripped the tour away from him with a sensational ride, leaving Roglic shellshocked at the stunning reversal of fortune. That 2020 Tour disaster was sandwiched between a crash-marred 2019 Giro and two brutally unlucky Tours that Roglic didn't even finish. He will probably never have a chance that clean to win a Tour de France ever again, as his teammate Jonas Vingegaard has now taken up the mantle and finally beaten Pogacar. Those failures no longer have to hang over Roglic's head, as his victory on Lussari showed him at his best. He was faced with disaster, and he calmly overcame it.