Wire-to-wire Giro: Could Roglic hold pink all the way to Verona?

With a series of sprint and breakaway stages before the race's next time trial, and the mountains coming soon after, the Slovenian could lead the race - and face all the extra responsibilities that come with it - for some time.

Photo: Getty Images

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FUCECCHIO, Italy (VN) — No one’s done it since Gianni Bugno in 1990.

Saturday’s hot start by Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) has people wondering: could the Slovenian go wire-to-wire in this Giro d’Italia and hold the pink jersey from Bologna to Verona, when the Giro ends June 2?

It’s highly unlikely, but the way this Giro is stacking up — with two important time trials and no major mountains in the first two weeks of racing — a miracle start-to-finish maglia rosa sweep could be possible.

After defending pink in Sunday’s wet and wooly sprint finale, Roglic said he’s enjoying the moment.

“We’ll see,” Roglic said when asked how long he hoped to keep pink. “I’d be happy to have it in Verona.”

The big question coming out of the Giro’s opening weekend is how long can Roglic can keep pink, with the even more tantalizing prospect that he could keep it all the way.

On Saturday, Roglic roared to an impressive victory against the clock, taking double-digit gains on the second hand against all of his direct GC rivals. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) came closest, at 19 seconds slower, giving Roglic an important early cushion that could play out in interesting ways over the next week or so.

Everyone knows those seconds will mushroom into minutes by the time the Giro ends in Verona, but right now, Saturday’s opening salvo could keep Roglic in pink longer than he might want it.

Here’s how: First off, none of the top sprinters rode fast enough in Saturday’s explosive time trial to be within a shot of taking pink based on finish-line time bonuses. Stage winners gain 10 seconds for the victory, but even a rider like stage 2 winner Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) is so far back, now 78that 1:51 behind, he will pose no real threat to Roglic.

And second, there’s the Giro route itself. In this old-school Giro route, there are no major mountain stages in the race profile until deep into the second week. That means sprints and breakaways will dominate the action, with the GC rivals keeping a wary eye on each other as they collectively try to avoid trouble. Roglic would certainly follow any moves from his direct challengers if the race breaks up across the Apennine Mountains. And if a stage does unfold in a way that the GC favorites come to the line together, Roglic is also among the fastest out of a reduced bunch and could spar for the finish-line bonuses.

And finally, before the Giro tilts into the Alps with its first serious summit finale in stage 13, there’s another major time trial waiting in San Marino in stage 9 that is tailor-made for Roglic’s lethal climbing/time trial style.

It’s all adding up to seeing Roglic in pink possibly for several days.

“The sprinters controlled the race today, and let me keep the maglia rosa,” Roglic said. “Right now, I am enjoying the pink jersey.”

Jumbo-Visma officials said defending the pink jersey simply for the sake of keeping it is not part of its larger plan for the Giro. The team is here to race to win, and if Roglic loses the pink jersey without ceding time to his main rivals, that’s just fine.

“It is not a goal,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels of defending the jersey to Verona. “The goal is the GC at the end of the race. It’s also not something that we have complete control of. We are not talking about that, that we have the jersey and that we want to keep it every day.”

Roglic, however, could be an accidental pink jersey for several more days.

Just as the race unfolded Sunday, the sprinter’s teams will be doing the hard work to keep the peloton together to finish in a bunch sprint on the flat stages. Because the Giro is so climb-heavy in the second half of the race, the sprint teams will be desperate to get their wins early. That should mean a tightly controlled Giro for the first week, and that could see Roglic hitting the podium every day.

“It was raining and cold from the beginning, and it was a hard stage, but we kept the jersey today,” Roglic said. “The other teams wanted a sprint today, so they pulled. The stage was quite controlled.”

Barring a crash or illness, the only real threat to his grip on pink between here and the San Marino time trial will likely come from a breakaway. There are plenty of lumpy stages in the first half of the Giro that will favor escape efforts. With the presence of such riders as Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), breaks are all but sure to eventually stick.

Yet breakaways can challenge for the stage victory without posing a direct threat to the leader’s jersey. Breakaway riders often sit up and purposely lose time so they do not present a direct threat on GC. It also depends on who jumps and how far back they are on the overall classification. And if a big break does go clear, Roglic’s GC rivals could work from behind to let a group stay clear for the win, but trim the gap to the break just enough to keep the former ski jumper in pink.

Roglic’s rivals are keenly aware that every day he is in the leader’s jersey is energy spent. Not only does the leader’s jersey come packed with extra responsibility on the road, but there are also an endless string of pre- and post-stage obligations with podium, media, and VIPs that can slowly add up over the course of a long three-week grand tour.

Established grand tour winners like Chris Froome or Vincenzo Nibali are used to that. But for Roglic, who’s never led a major three-week grand tour despite dominating one-week races this spring, that accumulative pressure could become oppressive.

“That would be great, wouldn’t it?” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White when asked if Roglic holds pink for a long time. “He would have that extra hour or so every day of podium and press conferences and arriving to the hotel late. What matters is who holds it in Verona.”

Only four riders have won the Giro by holding the pink jersey from start to finish. It likely won’t happen this year, but it could.

Here’s one scenario: Just like Sunday, the sprinters keep a tight leash on the days that suit them well into the first week, controlling the breaks, and subsequently keeping Roglic in pink as a result. A few breaks do manage to stay clear mid-week, but none of them are close enough to the GC to wrestle away pink. And then Roglic piles on in the 34.8km TT at San Marino to widen his lead even more before going into the Alps. From there, Roglic rides the afterburners across the Dolomites into the final week, and seals the deal in Verona.

That wire-to-wire scenario is something that Roglic’s rivals will certainly be working to rewrite. Until then, they’d be fine with Roglic in pink. When it really counts, however, Roglic might not be so keen to let it go.

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