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There are no gifts in cycling. Right?
Professional cycling is a peculiar sport. It’s full of unwritten rules and gentlemen’s agreements passed down through generations.
There is an imaginary statute dictating how a rider or a team, particularly in the men’s peloton, is supposed to behave in a certain situation.
Or so we’re led to believe.
The only problem is that nobody can agree on what these rules are and how they should be followed. They seek to hold riders to a complex standard that sees them vilified if they breach these arbitrary regulations.
Through his racing this year, Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) has highlighted one such unwritten grey area that has proved divisive. One where a champion should bestow gifts on riders less fortunate than themselves in order to curry favor with competitors and make friends.
It is an argument that resurfaces periodically when a rider is deemed not to have behaved in a gentlemanly manner towards another.
Roglič and Mäder: The Paris-Nice story
Roglič first received the ire of some fans when he stormed past Gino Mäder (Bahrain-Victorious) in sight of the finish line on the penultimate stage of Paris-Nice.
It was a ruthless move by Roglič – who had what looked like a comfortable lead in the overall classification and two stage wins in his pocket – and gut-wrenching for the young Mäder on the cusp of his first professional victory.
“It’s racing,” said those that defended Roglič. Meanwhile, others called him cruel and even went as far as saying his two crashes the following day were “karma” for his beating of Mäder.
Despite feeling gutted, Mäder was fairly measured about his misfortune after crossing the line and commended Roglič for his victory. The Slovenian felt sympathy for the 24-year-old, but he wasn’t about to pass up a third win and some extra bonus seconds. His teammates agreed.
“So you think I work my ass off so he can give presents? I never got a TT victory as a present after having the fastest intermediate time,” Jumbo-Visma rider Jos van Emden responded angrily in defense of his teammate to one complainant.
So you think I work my ass off so he can give presents?
And I never got a tt victory as a present after having the fasted intermediate time.
— Jos van Emden (@josvanemden) March 13, 2021
Roglič and Gaudu: The bromance
Fast forward a little less than a month and Roglič is riding to the line with David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), on his way to being crowned the overall winner of Itzulia Basque Country.
Heading into the final kilometers, Roglič tells his French companion that he’s not interested in the win and all he wants is the overall classification.
They even bump fists going under the flamme rouge, and Roglič plays the role of hype man for the duo as they approach the finish. Gaudu takes the win and Roglič happily glides in for second and the race title.
Also read: The flawed brilliance of Primož Roglič
Some on social media said Roglič had learned the lesson of the PR fall-out at Paris-Nice and realized that gifting a win will earn him brownie points with other riders and fans. I don’t buy it for a second.
For starters, Roglič is not the type of rider to be overly bothered about what people say about him on social media. While he might have been aware of what was being said, I don’t imagine he was poring over the critical posts.
— Gavin Day (@gavinlday) April 10, 2021
What went down in Valdeblore La Colmiane in March and in Arrate at the weekend were two entirely different circumstances.
We all love to see the underdog prevail but, as hard as it was to see Mäder overtaken so close to the line, Roglič was well within his rights to go for that win. His Jumbo-Visma team had worked hard to put him in the place to take it. Had they brought the Swiss man back a kilometer earlier then we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.
Imagine how irritated you would be if you were one of his teammates who had busted a gut to get Roglič there only to see him sit up and let another rider take the win.
This type of expectation doesn’t happen in other sports. I’m going to wind back the years a little with this one.
In 1999, Manchester United was not criticized for coming back from the brink and scoring two goals in extra time to win the UEFA Champions League competition. Lewis Hamilton was not told that he should have stayed behind Timo Glock on the final lap of the Brazilian GP and let Felipe Massa win the F1 world title in 2008.
Closer to home, nobody bemoans Michael Mørkøv for sprinting past Tony Martin just meters from the line at the 2013 Vuelta a España after the German went on a 175-kilometer solo breakaway.
What went down on Saturday’s final stage of Itzulia Basque Country was an entirely different affair.
Roglič needed the help of Gaudu to keep UAE Team Emirates and its GC contenders Tadej Pogačar and Brandon McNulty at bay. The pair, along with Hugh Carthy, had worked well together to maintain their breakaway.
By relinquishing his rights to contest the stage win, Roglič ensured the continued collaboration of his companions. It meant he wouldn’t have to worry about chasing down relentless attacks that could sap his energy reserves and he didn’t need to carry the entire workload of the group.
While it was a kind gesture, and the little fist bump between Roglič and Gaudu was lovely to see, it was also an astute move.
Gifts are rarely given out in cycling, but they usually come with a catch when they are. Part of the beauty of cycling is the cruelty of it. After his disappointment at Paris-Nice, Mäder and fans will celebrate even more when he eventually claims his first win.
Until then, I still stand by Primož Roglič’s decision to catch and pass him to take the victory.