Tour de France verdict: Primoz Roglic closes in on glory for Slovenia, indifferent to scepticism

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Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole - France - September 18, 2020. Team Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey - REUTERS/Stephane MaheBourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole - France - September 18, 2020. Team Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey - REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

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Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole – France – September 18, 2020. Team Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic of Slovenia, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey – REUTERS/Stephane Mahe
<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Primoz Roglic is pretty much inscrutable at the best of times; his face, like his riding style, measured, calm.” data-reactid=”28″>Primoz Roglic is pretty much inscrutable at the best of times; his face, like his riding style, measured, calm.

When he is wearing a face mask it is well nigh impossible to tell what he is thinking. 

So when the 30 year-old Tour de France champion-elect was asked in his yellow jersey press conference on Friday for his reaction to the fact that his sports director at Jumbo-Visma, Merijn Zeeman, had been thrown off the race for “intimidating” and “insulting” a UCI official who was trying to check his bike for possible mechanical doping, unsurprisingly, he did not give much away.

“Um, yeah. For sure we are not happy with it,” Roglic answered. “It’s not a good situation for us. I heard it yesterday in the evening and also for me it was a big surprise. I wasn’t there when it happened so it’s very hard to comment on any of this. But definitely it’s not nice that he cannot be here any more.”

It was consistent with Roglic’s response to pretty much everything that has been thrown at him at this race, on or off the road: unflappable, unexcitable, dour even. It may help to explain why some struggle to warm to him. And why there has perhaps been less fuss made about Roglic other winners in recent years.

For that is surely what he is about to become. 

Roglic will be crowned Slovenia’s first Tour champion in Paris on Sunday unless something truly disastrous befalls him in the individual time trial.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Stage 19, from Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole, produced few fireworks in the general classification battle. Danish rider Soren Kragh Andersen ultimately claimed his second victory of the race – and Sunweb’s third – attacking brilliantly from a 12-man breakaway 16km from the finish and soloing to the line, 53 seconds ahead of Luka Mezgec [Mitchelton-Scott].” data-reactid=”39″>Stage 19, from Bourg-en-Bresse to Champagnole, produced few fireworks in the general classification battle. Danish rider Soren Kragh Andersen ultimately claimed his second victory of the race – and Sunweb’s third – attacking brilliantly from a 12-man breakaway 16km from the finish and soloing to the line, 53 seconds ahead of Luka Mezgec [Mitchelton-Scott].

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="But behind him, all remained calm. Jumbo-Visma’s rivals knew there was little they could do to match the strength of the Dutch superteam on what was a hot and relatively flat day. Better to save their energies for Saturday’s 36.2km effort against the clock.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”40″>But behind him, all remained calm. Jumbo-Visma’s rivals knew there was little they could do to match the strength of the Dutch superteam on what was a hot and relatively flat day. Better to save their energies for Saturday’s 36.2km effort against the clock

Not that anyone is going to catch Roglic. Only fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar [UAE Team Emirates] has any chance. But 57 seconds is a lot to give away against one of the strongest time trial riders in the peloton. And one of its best climbers. Handy when the last 6km of the time trial course heads uphill at an average gradient of more than eight per cent. So steep is the finish on La Planche des Belles Filles that many riders are contemplating switching from time trial bikes to road bikes at the foot of the climb. Roglic was giving nothing away on that score, either, saying he would decide “at the last moment”.  

Either way, Slovenia is likely to supply the top two finishers at this year’s Tour, which is pretty extraordinary. Eyebrows will inevitably be raised. This is cycling after all. How does a country the size of Wales, with a population of only two million, suddenly produce the two top riders at the Tour de France?

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Which is not to say anything is amiss. Merely that there is lingering scepticism.&nbsp;Healthy scepticism. The fact is Slovenian cycling has had its share of doping scandals in recent years. Some of its riders were caught up in Operation Aderlass, the recent Austrian doping probe. And there are doubters out there, especially after a six-month Covid lockdown when out of competition testing was patchy at best. Former French rider Romain Feillu told Ouest France this week he could not believe what he was seeing. “Pas normal,” he said, adding that he did not think Slovenia as a nation “have had the same [anti-doping] education as us”.&nbsp;” data-reactid=”43″>Which is not to say anything is amiss. Merely that there is lingering scepticism. Healthy scepticism. The fact is Slovenian cycling has had its share of doping scandals in recent years. Some of its riders were caught up in Operation Aderlass, the recent Austrian doping probe. And there are doubters out there, especially after a six-month Covid lockdown when out of competition testing was patchy at best. Former French rider Romain Feillu told Ouest France this week he could not believe what he was seeing. “Pas normal,” he said, adding that he did not think Slovenia as a nation “have had the same [anti-doping] education as us”. 

Team UAE Emirates rider Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar wearing the best young's white jersey - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty ImagesTeam UAE Emirates rider Slovenia's Tadej Pogacar wearing the best young's white jersey - KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

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Team UAE Emirates rider Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar wearing the best young’s white jersey – KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images

Every Tour champion of the last few years has been asked about his credibility: Chris Froome, Vincenzo Nibali, Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal. And Roglic will be no different. In the absence of any proof of wrongdoing, however, he deserves to be celebrated like any other Tour winner.

Roglic and his team have ridden brilliantly at this race and no doubt he will handle the questions in his usual unflappable way. He has already been asked at this Tour about his credibility, and about his team’s use of a controversial ketones supplement. He was open about the latter and typically calm about the former. “They do a lot of [doping] controls,” he said after his performance on the Grand Colombier last weekend. “I think there’s nothing to hide. Looking from my side, you can definitely trust it.”