Primoz Roglic: COVID-19 positives at Giro d'Italia 'for sure not best thing'
When Primož Roglič sat down for his final pre-Giro d'Italia press conference wearing an FFP2 face mask, the latest news to hit the race was, regrettably, all too visible: a third Jumbo-Visma teammate set to ride the Italian Grand Tour had just tested positive.
Earlier this week, Tobias Foss and Robert Gesink returned positive tests and were substituted by Jos Van Emden and Rohan Dennis, only for Van Emden to test positive in his turn and be replaced by Sam Oomen. Oomen was himself a DNS at Liège after testing positive for COVID, but will now be doing the Giro.
However, after saying ironically "the grande casino [big mess] has started," Roglič - who removed his mask to answer questions - insisted that he had full trust in the last-minute substitutions in his battle for a fourth Grand Tour title.
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The Slovenian added that the team would put their former COVID-19 protocols back in operation again for this year's race. "My own condition," he concluded resolutely, "remains the same."
"For sure it's not the best thing that can happen," he added, "but we will deal with it, we will find solutions and we will go with the guys who are here."
As Roglič pointed out, riders testing positive for COVID was anything but new and the consequences of the virus were, thankfully, not as serious as they had been in the past.
"Now they say it's not such a big deal, the thing is when you are sick and want to perform at the highest level, you have a problem."
"So what you can do is try to take care, do the things we used to do already" - a reference to the COVID-19 protocols previously in place - "and we will stick to that and hope for the best. Because you also need some luck to stay healthy."
"We have full trust in the guys coming in, they are my teammates and my condition remains the same."
Roglič's determination to plough on regardless was clear throughout the press conference. When asked to comment on teammate Sepp Kuss' observation that he was in better and stronger shape than in the 2019 Giro, for example, he replied with a mild wisecrack, saying "I'm like a wine, the older the better.". Then he added categorically, "For sure I've grown up, I'm definitely wiser and I'm ready to go for it."
Similarly, Roglič repeated his recognition that Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-QuickStep) was a key rival but insisted that he and other contenders would put up as good a fight as they could. Or as he put it: "Me and the other guys are here to make his life a bit harder on the way to Rome."
"There are a bunch of other champions and strong guys here," he said. "It's going to be a big fight."
Hitting the ground running
Every stage has its importance in a three-week Tour, but Roglič warned that stage 1, with an individual time trial nearly 20 kilometres in length, would be "the first GC test."
"I haven't seen it yet, but I'll check it out soon and again on Saturday when the roads are closed and you can see exactly what lines to take," he said. "There could be seconds or maybe minutes between the riders."
As for the much harder, possibly crucial, uphill time trial at the other end of the Giro, Roglic agreed that the presence of Slovenian fans and "hearing words [of support] in Slovenian" would be a big boost for him. But he showed no sign of being troubled by the ghosts of the last TT in the 2020 Tour de France where he lost the race to Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). Asked what precautions he would take to prevent that happening, he fired back "Go as fast as possible, and then we'll see."
His long spell of training with his teammates on the Teide - over seven weeks in total, albeit with a break for the Volta a Catalunya in the middle - had brought indirect benefits in terms of bonding as a squad, he said. But he also added that "as we can see, there have been quite a few changes in the last moment. You need to be super-flexible and open, too, and definitely I am. I trust in the guys I have here."
Roglic denied his global history of Grand Tour racing, with multiple standout successes but also some harrowingly difficult moments, had been so unpredictable that he needed assistance on a mental level to deal with it.
Instead and perhaps demonstrating that characteristic of 'super flexibility' he had mentioned earlier, he said simply "for quite a while, I've been at the best level with other top riders, and a lot of nice things have happened, others that were not so nice. But that's part of it all."
"Now it's a new adventure, and I'm looking forward to it."