When preparing for a great battle, building togetherness amongst the group you’ll fight alongside is key. If you combine that unity with in depth knowledge of your opponents strengths and weaknesses, suddenly, you might just be invincible when the time comes.
If you’re planning on emerging from a three-week battle around Italy victorious, keeping your opponents close during the build up becomes even more paramount.
However, despite finding himself stuck at altitude on the side of a dormant Spanish volcano with Remco Evenepoel, Primož Roglič says the duo have been keeping their distance as they finalise their individual preparations for a shot at Giro d’Italia glory.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly and Cyclingnews from Tenerife, Roglič lifted the lid on his encounters with Evenepoel in the hotel lobby on the way to the breakfast buffet.
“In the mornings, and at some dinners we’ve seen each other,” Roglič says. “But on the road we hide from each other, so there’s no competition.”
“We’ll see enough of each other over the next three weeks,” the Slovenian adds with a smile.
Volcanoes aren’t typically packed with accommodation, so it would have come as no surprise to Roglič and Jumbo-Visma when they discovered that Evenepoel was staying in the same hotel on Mount Teide. The Belgian was finishing his own training for the Corsa Rosa when he’s not busy taking Strava KOMs.
When the evenings have arrived, and both men have returned to the hotel, the dedicated Roglič says neither of them have been tempted by a light hearted table tennis competition to lighten the mood.
“No, no, we focus on training, recovery and then repeat,” he says. “I feel ready. At the altitude camp, we’ve done everything we wanted to do here… we just need to get through the last days before the start and then we are good to go.”
Much of Roglič’s build up to this year’s Giro has been centred around altitude training in between two stage races. Tirreno-Adriatico and the Volta a Catalunya. The Slovenian won both races, proving that his form is there, particularly after beating Evenepoel in the latter in Spain.
More importantly than either win perhaps, Roglič says that his troublesome shoulder injury, operated on during the winter, is firmly in the past.
Back in 2019 before taking on the Giro, Roglič raced the Tour de Romandie along with Tirreno and some other stage races. In Switzerland, Roglič comfortably dispatched Geraint Thomas on his way to the title.
Coming into the Giro this time around, the Slovenian has less race days in the legs, but says it won’t be a disadvantage when the Italian Grand Tour begins. “We will see. I don’t feel like I need more stage races,” he says. “It was more than intensive enough in Catalunya, so now I can have a nice build up again, and then start the Giro.”
While Evenepoel headed to Belgium last weekend to race Liège–Bastogne–Liège, Roglič stayed at altitude and watched on from afar. After learning plenty about the Belgian at last year’s Vuelta a España as well as in Catalunya in March, Roglič has come to expect nothing less than the best from his young rival.
He explains that it came as “no surprise at all” to see the World Champion canter to a second La Doyenne title in style.
EVERYONE IS SOMEONE
However, as the Giro draws ever closer, the Slovenian warned that if both himself and Evenepoel remain too focused on one another, another rider could capitalise in a similar way to Richard Carapaz in 2019.
Four years ago, the Ecuadorian made the most of the intense battle between Roglič and Vincenzo Nibali, sneaking away to victory in the high mountains before ultimately beating both to the top step of the podium.
“That’s what I mean. In the end if we’re racing just between us then someone else, or all the rest can take any opportunity,” Roglič adds. “All these things tell you that at the end you need to deserve it, and you have to be the best.”
One of those other riders Roglič mentions could well be one of those in the colours of Ineos Grenadiers.
While the Slovenian and Evenepoel have been shut away at altitude, the British team were busy getting in one final stage race, road testing what’s widely expected to be the core of their Giro line up at the Tour of the Alps.
Former Giro winner Tao Geoghegan Hart took the victory, was Roglič paying close attention?
“If I’m honest I didn’t really watch it or follow it, but I also raced against him [Geoghegan Hart] in Tirreno, and he was super strong already there,” Roglič says. “I don’t need more confirmation… He’s won the Giro, and G [Geraint Thomas] has won the Tour, as well as a lot of other races.”
“Everyone is someone, nobody needs to prove that they can also win the Giro. It will be a big fight, but for me, I’ll just focus on myself, do my thing and do my very best, then we’ll see what that means with the result at the end.”
1,000 DIFFERENT OPTIONS IN THE GIRO
One of the many selling points of this year’s edition of the Giro is its huge number of time-trialling kilometres. Spread over three stages, the riders will tackle more than 70 kilometres of racing against the clock, a huge increase on the 26.2 kilometres of time-trialling last year.
Roglič explains that he hasn’t carried out much reconnaissance of the courses himself, with the exception of the final one, a brutal mountain time trial to Monte Lussari, close to the border with Slovenia, which he knows from days gone by.
“Of course I’ve been there, and have been skiing there a lot of times,” he says. “It’s super close to Slovenia.”
“Although we’ve always been going up by gondola, and this time we go down on the bus or with a bike,” he jokes.
Due to its close proximity to his home country, it’s widely expected that hordes of Slovenian cycling fans will line the road side on the penultimate day, looking to catch a glimpse of their homegrown hero in action. Is he hoping for a boost?
“Definitely, already the Giro is the closest race for our country,” he says. “From my experience there’s always a lot of supporters, and I’m looking forward to coming there and doing my very best.”
There will be a lot of racing before he gets to that and we wonder which of the race’s many mountain stages he sees as decisive. When asked by Cycling Weekly to handpick what he sees as being a key moment, Roglič points to stage 19 to Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
In 2013, Nibali won in the snow atop the famous mountain in the Dolomites, further padding out his already decisive advantage in the pink jersey of the race leader that year.
“We will have had quite some days already where you have to be there if you want to compete for the best result at the end,” Roglič says. “At the end of the final stages it’s the same, you have to be there. There will definitely be decisive ones with Tre Cime, and then the next day the time trial.”
THE RACE IS BIGGER THAN THE RIDER
In order to get yourself through any stage race, let alone a Grand Tour, being surrounded by the right group of people is essential. That spirit of togetherness and cohesion as a group was touched on by Geoghegan Hart in the wake of his victory in the Alps, and Roglič echoes that same sentiment.
“It’s super important,” he explains. “We want to keep good morale at the front of the team. Any race is super hard, but if you can have a bit of good luck here and there, then it’s a lot easier to go through.”
With that in mind, Jumbo-Visma have included Roglič’s long-standing key lieutenants, Robert Gesink and Sepp Kuss, in their Giro plans.
Roglič already has three Grand Tour victories to his name, all coming at the Vuelta. When asked if he wins the Italian Grand Tour, would that be the pinnacle of where he wants to reach in the sport, Roglič wouldn’t be drawn either way, and explains that he believes the Corsa Rosa is bigger than those that win it outright.
“We’ll answer this one after the Giro,” he says with a smile. “But I mean, it’s a part of it, it’s a process and it’s a part of your goals, your cycling career and life. Win it or not, the Giro moves on.”