He knew it from the route of the Giro 2023 unveiled: Primoz Roglic would compete in the last time trial of the event at home. The decisive exercise indeed took the slopes of Monte Lussari, a peak in the Julian Alps located a few kilometers from the Slovenian border. Also, surrounded by a crowd committed to his cause, in a forest of red-blue-white banners, the cyclist with the imposing crucifix tattooed on his right arm ascended to heaven. By setting the fastest time and, above all, by taking 40 seconds from the leader Geraint Thomas, who only had a 26 lead, Primoz Roglic took the pink jersey on the eve of the finish. Except cataclysm this Sunday in Rome, during the last stage with the air of a gala dinner, the Slovenian won his first Tour of Italy.
However, the cataclysm knocked on Roglic’s door until the final moments of the event. Two kilometers from the summit of Monte Lussari, when he had begun to seriously unbolt Thomas, we thought that a twist of fate was going to destroy the Slovenian’s enterprise: a chain jump in the middle of the slope, a suddenly having to stop dead.
Nailed to the asphalt, Primoz Roglic, crucified in full effort, at the age of 33. Impossible for him to recover: there is no escaping the fatality of ancient tragedies. Because in everyone’s mind, starting with the one surmounted by a golden helmet, the film of the Tour de France 2020 was rerun. At the Planche des Belles Filles, there too in a time trial uphill placed during the penultimate stage, Roglic had seen his comfortable lead and his yellow jersey vanish due to an improbable number from his compatriot Pogacar. As a white lady of the roadside, the curse of the time trial at the end of the grand tour seemed to have returned.
It was without counting on the fiery legs of the Slovenian and a crowd to make Piaf sing. “The public gave me wings. I was flying”, will say Roglic after the arrival. Without counting also on the limits of Geraint Thomas, who settled over the clock, not managing to finish as strong as his opponent. On arrival, 14 seconds separate the two men after more than 3,000 terminals. “In this Giro, it’s about surviving, analyzed Roglic at the start of the twelfth stage, halfway through the race. As Rocky said: the question is not how hard you can hit, but how much you are able to take it and still go forward. This is true for all great tours, but it was especially the case for this one.
An edition marked by bad weather and the Covid-19
While all roads lead to Rome, some are more tortuous than others. The one taken this year by the Giro peloton was harsh and cruel: of the 176 riders at the start, 51 gave up. It will first have been necessary to compose, for two weeks, with a weather not to put a cyclist outside. It rained almost as much as Thibaut Pinot shed tears, he who was competing in his favorite event for the last time (if he failed to clinch a stage victory, the Frenchman finished best climber and 5th in the general classification) . The rains, with dramatic consequences in Emilia-Romagna, did not spare the runners, sending more than one down. During the 11th stage, on a wet road taking a large circus rolling towards Piedmont, we saw Primoz Roglic, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geogheghan Hart, the winner of the Giro in 2020, fall in the same movement. for a second reason, will not leave: fracture of the pelvis.
When it did not cause the tires to slip, the rain wore out organisms threatened by a completely different calamity: the Covid-19. The disease, which we had probably forgotten a little quickly, caused devastation. Even before the start of the race, it forced the Jumbo Visma, Roglic’s team, to change three infected riders in a disaster. The virus will have especially deprived the followers of the duel announced between the experienced Slovenian and the world champion Remco Evenepoel. On the evening of the ninth stage, during which he resumed a pink jersey abandoned a few days earlier, the young wolf with long teeth was forced to retire, positive for a Covid test.
We then thought back to this staggering photo, published 48 hours earlier by Soudal-Quickstep, the Belgian’s team. We saw Remco Evenepoel, all smiles and without a mask, stuck tight with four of his teammates (Van Wilder, Vervaeke, Hirt and Cattaneo), in the cockpit of the helicopter which was bringing them down from the finish of the seventh stage, at the top of the Gran Sasso, some 2,130 meters above sea level, to their team bus parked in the valley. At the time, we especially shouted (rightly) at the environmental scandal, at a time when professional cycling is under fire from critics in this area. The International Cycling Union was also moved by sporting fairness, since the use of helicopters, offered by the organizers but at the expense of the teams, “contravenes the regulatory provisions aimed at offering equal treatment in the transfer of teams to their hotels”. In retrospect, we think that the less fortunate teams may have taken longer to come down but they did not risk the flying cluster. Of the runners present in the famous photo, only Van Wilder will see the Colosseum.
In the big mess department, it should also be noted that it was not until Evenepoel’s package to see the organization of the race reestablish a semblance of Covid protocol when the threat was identified even before the start of the race. Result: the virus feasted. Among the most notable riders, he will have eliminated Alexandr Vlasov (4th in 2021), Rigoberto Uran (2nd in 2013 and 2014) or the Italian time trial champion Filippo Ganna. The runners were however warned: a book published in 2017 depicted a race through Italy, one of the actors of which was called Coronavirus. You had to read Asterix and the Transitalic to know that the Giro was not easy. To tell the truth, it never is.