Slovenia celebrates cyclist Roglič after historic feat at Giro
Ljubljana/Verona, 3 June - Slovenia is celebrating its best cyclist Primož Roglič, who on Sunday finished third overall at the Giro d'Italia for the first ever podium finish for a Slovenian at the Grand Tour races. What makes the success even greater is the fact that the 29-year-old survived the gruelling race virtually without help from his team mates.
Roglič was in the lead for the first five stages as the first Slovenian ever to manage that at the Grand Tour races after winning the first stage, an 8-km time trial.
He won another time trial as part of the 9th stage to climb back from the 12th spot to the second spot and stay at the very top for the remainder of the race, also performing well in the mountain stages.
The podium finish for the former ski jumper comes after Roglič was fourth overall at last year's Tour de France, and by far surpasses the previous best by a Slovenian in Italy, the 9th place by Tadej Valjavec in 2004.
Roglič has also secured the first podium finish for the Dutch team Jumbo-Visma at a Grand Tour, one of the three major European professional cycling stage races - Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
Jumbo-Visma sports director Addy Engels admitted that the team was too weak in the mountain stages and failed to provide Roglič with proper support, so the question remains whether Roglič would have performed better with help from his team mates.
Roglič arrived in Italy in the role of the main favourite after winning the inaugural UAE Tour and the Tirreno-Adriatico race, as well as the Tour de Romandie for the second year in a row.
His team actually looked very well ahead of the Giro d'Italia, but was soon hit by an injury to the experienced veteran Robert Gesink, who was supposed to be one of the main assistants to Roglič in the mountain stages.
To add insult to injury, another helper for the gruelling climbs in Italy, Laurens De Plus, fell ill, leaving Roglič virtually alone to fight with the competition, which joined forces in a bid to eliminate him from contention.
Ruglič himself struggled with stomach ache and soreness resulting from a crash into a guard rail during one of the speedy descents. He also had technical problems with his bicycle, right at the time when he could earn a decisive advantage.
"I cannot say that we would have won Giro with more support in the mountains, but we would certainly be closer. We would not be losing minutes. But I believe that Primož was good in the hills and mountains," said Engels.
Roglič had been supported all the way by numerous Slovenian fans, but one of them was perhaps too supportive and cost him precious time by pushing his bike for a few seconds up the climb just below the Croce d'Aune pass.
The Slovenian rider was given ten penalty seconds, but Engels said he understood the decision and accepted the penalty. "It was not ok for us, but a right decision was made," he said, while praising Slovenian fans in general.
Roglič was not mad at the team. "I learned a lot at this Giro, and the team did too. I think that we need such experience for the future. We need to make an analysis and learn from mistakes."
Hundreds of Slovenians, including many celebrities, welcomed Roglič in Verona Arena as he finished the 3,547-km race with a 17-km time trial on the streets of the city. They waved Slovenian flags and chanted his nickname "Rogla".
"It's funny to think that a small Slovenian can come to Giro and compete with the best," Roglič told reporters after leaving the podium, adding that the third-place finish was like a win to him.
"I'm also happy that Slovenians and their fans have lifted the race to another level. I enjoyed in the exceptional support. Thanks to everybody who came to support us," he praised the fans from the home country.
Roglič is looking forward to getting some rest at home, where he will be adjusting to a new life as his partner is soon to give birth to their baby. "I would like to have some rest and do things that are not painful," he added.
He was also praised by the Maribor-based newspaper Večer, which said in today's commentary he was too good for the competition, which joined forces to get rid of him in his moments of weakness, a sight rarely seen in cycling.
"He raised Giro to another level as a true Slovenian champion," says Večer, adding that Roglič had also deserved an opportunity to be acquired by a more competitive team, as he had shown what he was made of.
Roglič and Jan Polanc (Bahrain Merida), who wore the pink jersey as the race leader in stages 12 and 13 and finished the race in 15th spot overall, were welcomed in a special reception in front of the Ljubljana Town Hall today.
At the reception Roglič reflected some more on the Giro, admitting that not having the right team support had been a problem.
"The difference with the other favourites was that I was left alone in the key moments. And everybody raced against me. That was the difference. Everybody was afraid of me, they all knew I was a problem and they raced so as to prevent me from winning," he said.
As for the tensions with Vincenzo Nibali, who finished second overall, Roglič said he did not have a problem with the Italian star.
"We talk normally, we also congratulated each other yesterday. At the winners' podium I got ready for him to congratulate me, but he did not. Still, there is no problem between us."