Primož Roglič’s specialist accuses Jumbo-Visma of putting team goals over rider health

Roglič's rehab advisor Dr. Mito Bračič speaks to 'Sportal' about treatment of grand tour star's injuries.

Photo: BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

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This story first appeared on CyclingTips

No stranger to the first aid kit, Primož Roglič has had a more injury-affected season than usual this year. And as the stakes get higher, it seems that cracks are being exposed in Jumbo-Visma’s approach to injury and recovery after they kept their presumed co-leader at the Tour de France even after the Slovenian picked up significant injuries on the Roubaix stage.

“That day, with Primož, everything revolved around the shoulder joint, which I was not so worried about,” said Dr. Mito Bračič, physiotherapist and doctor of sports science (also currently finishing his doctorate in scientific physiotherapy), in an interview with Sportal. “However, the information was hidden at the time, even Primož did not mention it to me during the race, that he had problems with his back… I think they were silent because it was a team tactic for Primož to help Jonas Vingegaard beat Tadej Pogačar. Only when they finished the 11th stage, where Vingegaard gained a big advantage, was it clear that Primož had done his job.

“But the story was repeated when the team said that the injury was nothing, that he should just take a pill. It wasn’t until Primož got an MRI scan in Monte Carlo on his own initiative and sent me a picture that we realised that the injury was not so innocent,” Bračič continued. “Team doctors sometimes forget their Hippocratic Oath and are prisoners of capital. They work for the benefit of the team, not the patient or an athlete, unfortunately.”

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The defending champion is currently going after a fourth consecutive Vuelta title, just six weeks after the stage 5 crash that ultimately led to his withdrawal from the Tour, and around which the details are only recently sharpening into focus, i.e. with two fractures to his vertebrae, the dislocated shoulder was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Primož is doing very well so far at the Vuelta a España, I would say even surprisingly good considering what he has been through this season,” said Bračič. “He has two very serious injuries behind him. Even if he does not win and at least he will be on the podium, it will be a great success.”

Roglič battled on several more days after crashing at the Tour de France.

Roglič first sought Bračič’s help after Itzulia Basque Country in April – where he finished eighth overall after dropping out of the race lead on the penultimate stage – feeling pain behind his knee.

“We sorted things out in ten days so he could train normally again,” said Bračič. “At that time, Primož approached me with some assessments of his condition, which were completely wrong. Until then, he had not even undergone a serious examination.

“The team assumed that it was some kind of pain behind the knee and suggested that he take a pill, but he himself felt that it would not be enough. As soon as I examined him with an ultrasound, I realised that it was a rupture of the calf muscle tendon. Primož had an MRI the same day, and my assumptions were confirmed.”

In the weeks that followed, with no races on the Slovenian’s schedule in the run-up to the French summer, rumors swirled as to whether the knee injury might put a premature end to his season, or at least his ability to be competitive.

But with the help of Dr. Bračič, Roglič began an intense program of rehabilitation, which included several hours of unconventional (unspecified) physiotherapy per day and continued on-bike training, only at a restricted intensity to reduce the risk that his injury would worsen or recur.

His rehabilitation included the use of a high-frequency laser, based on the theory that energized cells provoked by the focus of the laser over the affected area would increase the rate of healing. Bracič equipped his compatriot with “the best laser currently available on the market” and taught Roglič how to work it himself so he could continue treating himself in the event of pain or inflammation.

The several-thousand euro device (the “best” top-of-the-line models can cost around €40,000) came in particularly handy after the rider’s Tour de France crash, which has left him with persistent discomfort in his lower back and shoulder, which is itself still not completely healed.

Roglič is currently chasing Remco Evenepoel through Spain.

“This year’s injury was much worse than at last year’s Tour. Last year’s injury made it impossible for him to pedal, which he was allowed to do this year, but the pain was really great,” the doctor explained. “He had two fissures on the vertebrae, that is, two fractures, but we had an even bigger problem with the soft tissues that became inflamed. Also because Primož continued cycling even after the fall. These are the tissues that attach to the vertebrae.”

Should he have withdrawn there and then? Did the injury get worse through continued racing and training?

“I think so,” said Bračič. “However, as far as I know Primož, he always sees things through to the end. He continued the tour at his own request so that they could achieve team success…Of course, I would rather see Roglič in first place… Let’s hope that this will also happen someday. The fact is that Primož sacrificed himself for the team’s goal on the Tour, and there are few such athletes. Most of them are egocentric and selfish, but Primož is not even close to these descriptions.

“Sometimes he’s too good for the environment. If he had been more selfish, he would probably have been even more successful, but then he would no longer be Primož.”

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