Roglič makes Slovenian sporting history

Madrid, 16 September - Primož Roglič (Team Jumbo-Visma) made national sporting history this weekend as he became the first Slovenian to win one of cycling's three grand tours, La Vuelta, cementing his position among the nation's sporting greats.

Madrid, Spain
Tadej Počagar (right) at last year's Tour of Spain (La Vuelta), which he finished third, standing next to the winner, Slovenia's Primož Roglič (centre).
Photo: dpa/STA
File photo

The victory for the 29-year-old comes after a third place at the Giro d'Italia this year, another Grand Tour. He sat out the Tour de France to prepare for la Vuelta but also because he became father for the first time.

Roglič had seized control of the overall Vuelta standings by completely dominating the individual time-trial in stage 10 and then proved unbeatable in the decisive mountain stages, successfully fending off attacks by arch rival Nairo Quintana.

Even the group stage already made Roglič a standout among Slovenian cyclists, as he became the first ever Slovenian to win a stage at all three grand tours and only the 99th cyclist in the world to do so.

The quiet Slovenian, who prefers pushing pedals to talking, crossed the line arm in arm with his teammates, climbing the podium draped in his national flag.

"I don't have much to say," he confessed to the crowd at the Plaza de Cibeles. "Thanks to my family for their support and thanks to all the people connected with this huge achievement." "See you at other races."

Adding to his achievement, 20-year-old Tadej Pogačar finished third overall and won the white jersey for the best young cyclist, having mounted a decisive attack in the penultimate stage on Saturday.

Cycling was never a predestined sport for Roglič, who started out as a ski jumper and was even a junior world champion before he switched to cycling just six years ago on the Slovenian team Adria Mobil.

He joined the world series in 2016 and in May that year he already won second place in the opening time trial stage at the Giro d'Italia; just a week later he won his first stage - again a time trial.

A year later he started out with an overall victory in the Volta ao Algarve and in July he achieved another milestone by winning a stage at the Tour de France, and in a demanding mountain stage at that.

He went on to become the first Slovenian to win a medal at a World Championship time trial.

But it was this year that he really came into his own before the Giro, the first of the Grand Tours, he entered three races and won them all.

At the Giro he was within reach of victory for a long time but had to settle for third place, due to exhaustion as well as the onset of illness.

Health issues also led to the decision to skip the Tour de France to focus on the Vuelta, a decision that has paid off.

Roglič will return to his homeland a national hero, having started a veritable cycling craze in a country that is obsessed with sports as it is.

Today's headlines hailed him as "King of Spain" - giving his junior Tadej Pogačar the consolation title of Prince of Spain. One headline said "In Spain, Slovenian means Champion".

Cycling experts had nothing but praise for Roglič.

His first coach, Miha Koncilja, said this was a "golden age of Slovenian cycling". "I'm speechless. I've been in cycling for 20 years. We used to be elated over third place at the World Championship ... but this takes the cake."

Andrej Hauptman, a former cyclist who is now assistant director at Pogačar's team UAE Emirates, called Roglič "a great champion and cyclist".

"A race can turn sour if you fall. Things can happen. I am confident that if Primož had not fallen ill in the Giro, if he had raced slightly less before the Giro, he would have won it."

© STA, 2019