Having failed in his attempt to take the Tour, Primoz Roglic dropped to the tarmac in search of an alternative reality. For a man whose name spent the last three weeks sharing sentences with adjectives such as ‘robotic’ or ‘metronomic’, you couldn’t help but feel for him as he made his way to the top of La Planche des Belles Filles. He was haunted, with his helmet sagging like a brodie flopped on the head of a soldier that had long given up hope.
I certainly felt a wave of emotion watching it and I have to say that caught me by surprise. Ever since the 1996 edition, where my idol growing up Miguel Indurain’s reign ended, I’ve had a reflexive tendency to shout for anyone except the incumbent in yellow. That’s hardly controversial – at least half of those Tours were won by the dominant rider from the dominant team of the respective eras, something many fans of all sports chafe against.
I also think it reflects how many cycling fans warm to a rider that shows fallibility. Is that a hangover from the sport’s more recent past, where you couldn’t simply be good, you had to be boosted to invincibility? I’m not sure, as there has always been a love for the ones that fall short, and there always will be. I think it’s more to do with how it chimes with how we each experience the sport ourselves. Any cyclist knows how it feels to happen upon the man with the hammer, when the legs turn to jelly and the light starts to bend. And so I roared Pogacar all the way to the line, then immediately fell for Roglic.
But the question is, should we be surprised the win proved beyond him? Were we too quick to extend the (valid) comparison of Jumbo-Visma this year and previous iterations of Team Sky/Ineos to Roglic and someone like Chris Froome? If we set aside concerns that he came into the race too hot, the signs of fallibility have been there before.
Cast your mind back to Stage 15 of last year’s Giro d’Italia. Like the Tour de France this year, Roglic came into the race in blistering form and the man to beat. He started that day 7 seconds off Carapaz in pink but following an emergency change onto his teammate’s bike, he was forced to chase back to the group of main contenders. Ever the man with the innate sense of when to force the issue, Vincenzo Nibali attacked at the foot of the next climb forcing Roglic to chase. Under pressure chasing on the following descent and on an unfamiliar bike, he planted himself into the barrier exiting a hairpin and lost 40 seconds. He lost a further minute on the next stage and with it his hopes of pink.
Fast forward to Saturday, and that history just makes me wonder how much the pressure got to him. On co-commentary duties for Eurosport, Bradley Wiggins saw the early seconds Pogacar took out of Roglic and wondered aloud if the young Slovenian might have considered trying to spook his elder compatriot by turning the screw early. Wiggins, in his increasingly inimitable stream of consciousness style, proceeded to give his own response to this hypothesis – “you’ve got to have the balls to stick to your plan”. Pogacar posed a serious question early. I’m taking this day. Can you stop me? We’ll never know for sure, but maybe it was Roglic’s head that went before his legs.
Here’s the thing, though. I don’t know man, because I wasn’t there. I just know the next time Roglic takes the start in a Grand Tour, I’ll be roaring him on.
“Ah I remember you: you’re the guy who lost the Tour de France by eight seconds”
“No monsieur, I’m the guy who won it twice”Laurent Fignon
Let’s hope Roglic can start to take back control of his own story, and besides, everyone that’s ever made it to Paris is a legend.