Primož Roglič: ‘I’m ready’ for Vuelta a España defense

Jumbo-Visma favorite reflects on injury discomfort, Remco Evenepoel threat and how he got over Tour de France disappointment.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

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UTRECHT (VN) — The last time Primož Roglič lost a Vuelta a España, COVID-19 didn’t exist and both Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel were just very talented neo-pros with a lot to prove.

The defending champion is the big favorite for the last grand tour of the year again, yet he has something to prove, too. He starts it with sub-optimal preparation and it’s been more than four weeks since he last raced: his crash and dislocated shoulder on stage 5 of the Tour de France contributed to his abandon following stage 14.

“At the moment, it’s definitely a lot better than it was,” he said of his injury. “In some ways, I can still feel some things, but we will see. Now I’m here and when I come here, I’m ready.”

Asked about his other rivals for the Vuelta crown, the Slovenian responded: “I’m not really thinking about the rest, just myself. In the end, it’ll be how I feel, how things will go. That’s something to keep an eye on. We all start from zero tomorrow.”

Remco: proven strength

Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl prodigy Remco Evenepoel makes his Vuelta debut with 11 wins so far this year and as the second favorite with the bookmakers.

“Remco doesn’t need to prove it, he already proved he’s a super strong guy on all kinds of terrains. The other guys, the previous winners also of the Vuelta [Yates, Froome, Quintana, Valverde, Nibali], hopefully it’ll be a spectacular one to watch.”

The first three stages in the Netherlands will be important for both a good GC start and judging his own sensations. Team Jumbo-Visma will line up on home turf as the favorites with powerhouses Rohan Dennis, Edoardo Affini and Mike Teunissen also in the lineup.

“It’s a nice challenge, something different to start with,” Roglič said of the 23.3-kilometer test. “We have everything [in this team], so we’re going there tomorrow and putting it all on the roads.”

Always looking to the next game

Roglič has not yet seen Jonas Vingegaard since the Dane won the Tour de France. However, he sounded a sanguine note about his abandon and missing the victory celebrations in Paris: “You feel you want to be there, you’re a part of it. But for me, I came to the very end, to the point I couldn’t even do one kilometer anymore.“From that point of view, I had to accept the situation. Still, I was definitely super happy with all the successes we had in the Tour,” he said.

Jumbo-Visma director Merijn Zeeman last month called him the best athlete in the world at managing disappointment. How did Roglič handle the disillusion of his Tour? “I always accept it the way it is, doing some analysis, figuring it out, why things happen or don’t happen,” he said.

“And the most important thing is try to keep moving, try to keep focus not on the past, but on the future. It’s not about the last game, it’s about the next game, uh.”

Zeeman indicated recently in the Dutch press that this has been an abnormal run-up to a Grand Tour for the Slovenian; for instance, he has not gone away to altitude beforehand. “The most important point was that he had to be fit to start,” Zeeman said.

“Although he is not totally free of pain, he wanted to take on the challenge of racing anyway. We don’t know what’s possible because his preparation is far from optimal.”

Gesink: Roglič has the level needed

Jumbo-Visma domestique Robert Gesink, supporting Roglič for his previous three Vuelta victories, was more confident when asked by VeloNews about his leader’s form.

“To me, Primož seems really relaxed. He’s laughing, but he seems in good shape. Also, a rider of his level, with all the things he has been doing in the last years, he would only go to a race like this if he thinks there’s something really special he could do. I think he’s at the level.”

There are a lot of mountains between Utrecht and Madrid, but a fourth consecutive victory for Roglič in this “next game” would see him move into the record books.

He would be alongside Roberto Heras (2000, 2003, 2004 and 2005) as the winner of the most editions in Vuelta a España history.

“It’s something different, something special,” Roglič said of the prospect.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.