'Not bad for a guy with COVID' – Roglic keeps everyone guessing at Giro d'Italia

 FOSSOMBRONE ITALY  MAY 13 Primo Rogli of Slovenia and Team JumboVisma competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 8 a 207km stage from Terni to Fossombrone  UCIWT  on May 13 2023 in Fossombrone Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images
FOSSOMBRONE ITALY MAY 13 Primo Rogli of Slovenia and Team JumboVisma competes during the 106th Giro dItalia 2023 Stage 8 a 207km stage from Terni to Fossombrone UCIWT on May 13 2023 in Fossombrone Italy Photo by Tim de WaeleGetty Images

The whispers that had been percolating through the Giro d’Italia caravan all week began to amplify on Saturday morning. According to the rumour mill, Primož Roglič had tested positive for COVID-19, and in the latest version of the story, he had even told a GC rival as much in the middle of Friday’s stage to Gran Sasso d’Italia.

At the start of stage 8 in Terni, however, a quick scan of the bikes lined up outside the Jumbo-Visma bus showed the machine bearing Roglič’s number 141 prepared as normal for the day ahead. When Cyclingnews caught up with directeur sportif Addy Engels, he insisted that he hadn’t even been aware of the murmurs in the first place.

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“To be honest you surprise me with this rumour, because I don’t know anything about this rumour,” Engels said. “Is it on the internet? There is no issue.” In private, another staff member was more succinct: “It’s bullshit.”

On the road to Fossombrone later in the afternoon, Roglič certainly showed no signs of infirmity. His Jumbo-Visma team were prominent in leading the pink jersey group in the finale, laying the groundwork for the Slovenian’s firm acceleration on the second of two ascents of I Cappuccini.

Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) tried and failed to match his pace there, and only the Ineos duo of Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart could scramble across to him over the top of the climb with 6km to go. Driven all the way by Roglič, they would reach the finish 14 seconds up on Evenepoel.

The effort sees Roglič reduce his deficit on Evenepoel in the GC standings to 30 seconds ahead of Sunday’s pivotal time trial to Cesena. The time gained was the story of the day on the bike, but the curious case of the Roglič rumour continued to colour conversation off it.


As he warmed down outside the Ineos bus, Thomas revealed that he was the rider who had been informed by Roglič of his supposed COVID-19 case the previous afternoon. “Not bad for a guy with COVID,” he said of Roglič’s performance. “He told me that yesterday, that he had COVID. So I said, ‘Stay away from me, then.’”

Thomas, like everybody else, couldn’t tell if Roglič’s admission was serious or not.

“He always says he’s got bad legs,” the Welshman said, breaking into a passable Roglič impression. “‘Ah, the race is hard, eh. This is too hard, eh, I go home.’ And then he goes and wins by ten minutes. Who knows with him, it’s all mind games. [João] Almeida said to me he had bad legs today as well. I just think, ‘If you really did, why would you tell me?’ I wouldn’t tell him.”

No matter, Thomas’ revelation called for another visit to the Jumbo-Visma bus, where directeur sportif Marc Reef’s response was to break into a broad smile. By his telling, Roglič’s ‘admission’ was simply an example of his own, kooky humour.


“I think that the whole bunch is talking about it already for a long time,” Reef laughed. “I think that it was Koen Bouwman who came in the car maybe four or five days ago and he said that the rumour is going around that Primož has COVID. I think it’s quite funny. I think also, if everyone wants to believe that, they should believe that…”


The outlook for Roglič’s Giro was altogether healthier now than it has done at any point since the race began. He was on the backfoot before the Giro even began after a spate of COVID-19 cases and injuries forced late changes to his Jumbo-Visma squad, and he then proceeded to lose 43 seconds to a rampant Evenepoel in the opening time trial.

Roglič proceeded to lose another second to Evenepoel in a bonus sprint on stage 3, and he was among the fallers in the rain-soaked finale in Salerno on Wednesday. Amid the stalemate at Gran Sasso d’Italia on Friday, meanwhile, he was outsprinted by Evenepoel for fourth place.


On Saturday, on the short, sharp climb of I Cappuccini, Roglič laid a glove on Evenepoel for the first time and breathed some momentum into his Giro in the process. He had raced on these roads at Tirreno-Adriatico in 2019, and Jumbo-Visma had planned their day accordingly.

“I had the legs and it was good,” Roglič said as he warmed down. “You can always plan a lot of things, but in reality, it’s a lot of different situations. I more or less have to be ready every day, and where there is a chance, I have to take it. You have to race, you have to dare and take opportunities that are there.”

If Roglič’s aptitude for a 3km climb like this was to be expected, Evenepoel’s relative travails were altogether more surprising. “On climbs like this, when you go too hard once, you pay towards the end, you can’t recover any more,” Reef said.

Roglič now lies third overall, 38 seconds off maglia rosa Andreas Leknessund (DSM) and exactly half a minute behind Evenepoel. On the evidence of their most recent time trial duels, Evenepoel will expect to extend that buffer in the 35km test to Cesena on Sunday, but after a week of rumours, Roglič faces the race of truth with spirits raised. “They say it’s flat, so it should be fine,” he said.