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Grand Tour riders lead polarising lifestyles. Four, five, or even six hours of extreme physical exertion are bookended by sloth-like lounging trying to expend as little energy as possible. As the old saying goes – never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie.
The idea then that any rider, let alone one of the favourites for the 2022 Tour de France, might be up at 6am for a quick run or jog before a stage seems unfathomable at best and perhaps foolish at worst. But, as crazy as it sounds, this is seemingly how Primož Roglič likes to start his day.
Given, as my wife put it, that most cyclists will “hardly walk the length of themselves”, the idea of one of the world’s best heading out for a jog during one of the most physically demanding sporting events on the planet, while chasing overall victory as part of one of the most meticulous teams in the sport, well, it seemed a bit ridiculous.
After first hearing of Roglič’s mid-race running last September, requests for comment from Jumbo-Visma went unanswered. So by the time we landed in Copenhagen, there was only one question I had burning a hole in my notebook: Does Roglič go running every morning during the Tour de France?
My first port of call, as per protocol, was Team Jumbo-Visma’s press officer, Ard Bierens. Ard is a tall, cool, calm, and collected Dutchman (probably) in his mid-forties.
Ard’s measured and calculated responses to press enquires as well as his (in these times) half-masked face make him difficult to read. So when I asked him about the rumours that Primož likes to go for a run every morning during the Tour de France, I was expecting to perhaps get laughed out of the paddock or at best encounter the same non-response my earlier emails had received. But that’s not what I got at all.
“We think Primož does something, but what it is? We are not sure,” Ard told me, before adding “we don’t really know what Primož does in the morning.”
To be fair, it’s not Ard’s job to oversee Primož’s physical preparation for the Tour de France, and at least part of Ard’s job does involve ensuring Primož doesn’t have to field stupid questions about what he does in his free time. But still, it seemed an odd response and one that I could, rightly or wrongly, take to suggest he’s a bit of a recluse within the team environment.
If Ard’s response raised more questions than it answered, then a similar response from the team’s coach Frans Maassen was all the more perplexing. Here is one of the favourites for the Tour de France, most likely commanding one of the biggest salaries on the team, yet the team bosses don’t know if he is lying in bed when sunrise comes or out pounding the pavement.
Speaking with other team staff felt like taking one pace forward and then two paces back. One mechanic offered a glimmer of hope when he started with “Primož is an early morning guy” before concluding, “I don’t know, I haven’t seen him running at this Tour de France.” A thought-provoking response only added to the mystery: “this Tour De France”. Could that mean he has been running during previous Tours, but not this one, yet? Or could it simply mean the whole running rumour is just that, a rumour?
No closer to finding out the truth, there was seemingly only one way to get an answer, ask the man himself. And so I sacrificed all chance of spotting any new tech prior to the start of stage three and parked myself behind the Jumbo-Visma team bus waiting for “Rogla” to emerge for sign-on. Better that, I figured, than camping outside the Jumbo-Visma team hotel every night for three weeks.
Hope was fading as the team’s riders all shot out from the small gap between the rear of their bus and the front of the BikeExchange-Jayco vehicle, quickly pedalling off towards the start village. But seven riders later, one face hadn’t emerged yet. The former ski jumper turned cyclist was yet to emerge, further adding to my recently formed mental image of a secluded and introverted GC rider happy to remove himself from the team bubble whenever possible.
Roglic wasn’t only alone when he emerged, he was riding just slowly enough for me to run alongside and ask him my stupid question: “ I hear you like to run every morning of the Tour de France?” A giggle back from the Slovenian spurred my confidence.
“Is it for the training?”…“awh…”
“Is running during the Tour good for the head?” … “awh”. “for me it’s good.”
And there it was. “For me it’s good”. Primož Roglič, former ski jumper, three-times Grand Tour champion and second-favourite to win the Tour de France 2022, as good as confirming he likes to go for a run in the morning before Tour de France stages. Sean Kelly had never thought to add never run when you can stand when he told me his royal dictum on a cyclist’s off-the-bike exertions.
But still, there were further questions. So many questions. How far does he run? How fast is a pre-stage jog? Is that not a bad idea? How does the team feel about running during the Tour de France? Do any other riders run?
For the other questions, it was back to Team Jumbo-Visma and Head of Performance Mathieu Heijboer, who first mentioned Roglič’s running fun at the Cycling Science conference in Leuven back in September of last year.
Heijboer confirmed running is a “habit” for Roglič which he enjoys year-round, not for fitness gains, but to “wake the body up for a new day”.
“Primož has a habit of doing exercise in the morning and he wants to continue the habit because he is used to doing something every morning,” Heijboer continued, “In the Tour, he continues running but for less time and at a slower pace, sometimes it’s just a 15-20 minute jog. Other times he will do 20 minutes on the time trial bike or on the turbo trainer.”
It’s not that Roglič is out running to improve his fitness, but rather to escape the Tour circus for a short while. Heijboer explains Roglič has varying motivations to head out for an early morning run, but “getting better on the bike is not one, he likes to continue the habit. But it is also true it is a way to mentally refresh [himself].”
While Heijboer is certain the early morning exercise does not affect Roglič’s Tour performances, he wouldn’t recommend a morning run to other riders. “If you are not used to running, I really wouldn’t recommend this during the Tour.”
Retired pro Nicolas Roche says it would have “never crossed my mind to go for a run pre-stage. I’m from a generation where teams wanted you to grab a lift rather than stairs to save the legs.”
As for how Jumbo-Visma feels, Heijboer suggests it’s better to not fix something that isn’t broken, and that the team fully support his morning habits. “By the time Primož did his first Tour he was already in the team for two years and we knew running is something he does,” he explained. “As a team we did not want to force him to change a habit he really enjoys only to force him to do something he does not like.” A rather refreshing approach from an otherwise meticulously drilled team.
Still, though, for a rider who has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on more than one occasion, it seems bizarre he might risk any ounce of energy on performance-extraneous activities.
The last question was the easiest to answer. Wandering through the paddock I popped the pre-stage running question to Mathieu van der Poel. Despite professing his love for running, the pineapple pizza-loving, pasta-spoiling cyclocross champion “prefers to stay in bed” during a Grand Tour.
But, still, there’s one final twist. Speaking with other Tour riders on their thoughts about mid-race running, one pro dropped the biggest bombshell yet.
“I’m working on an article about a rider who likes to run during the Tour de France,” I asked.
“There’s more than one,” came the response.
Seemingly the world’s toughest cycling endurance event isn’t enough for some.