The Australian edition of the 2020 Official Tour de France Guide featured an interview with Primoz Roglic and Tom Dumoulin. Here’s the online version.
– interview by Raymond Kerckhoffs
Two of cycling’s strongest riders have teamed up in 2020. Tom Dumoulin joins last year’s Vuelta winner Primoz Roglic at Jumbo-Visma.*
– Originally published in English in the Official Tour de France Guide (2020 Australian edition) –
They have both already won a Grand Tour and now they want to go for the ultimate prize: victory in the Tour de France. In 2017 Tom Dumoulin was the rightful winner of the Giro d’Italia, while Primoz Roglic reigned supreme last year in the Vuelta a España. At Jumbo-Visma, this pair, together with Steven Kruijswijk, will be the focus for success at the Tour. It seems the team most capable of taking on Ineos Grenadier.
“Dutch mafia,” he says without a hint of blushing. When Primoz Roglic looks back on his first confrontation with Tom Dumoulin, on 6 May 2016 during the prologue of the Giro d’Italia in Apeldoorn, he raises his eyebrows in a theatrical manner. In that opening 9.8km TT of the Giro four years ago, the ‘local rider’ Dumoulin was two-hundredths of a second faster than Roglic. It was enough for the Dutchman to take the pink leader’s jersey.
“That was a Dutch get-together where they wanted a fellow countryman on the podium,” says Roglic with a big wink. “No, I didn’t lie awake for long afterwards. For me that second place was a surprise.
“It was a confirmation of my qualities as a TT rider. That result gave me a lot of self-confidence. Later,” continues Roglic, “thanks to this result, I was able to take bigger steps. This was one of the reasons why, a week and a half later, I triumphed in the long Giro time trial in Chianti.”
“I just got incredibly lucky that day,” says Dumoulin. “Two-hundredths of a second, it’s nothing. I had heard of Primoz, but for me it was also a surprise that he put down such a sharp time trial. I wasn’t doing my best that day.”
Question time: Roglic and Dumoulin
Your second confrontation was the TT world championship of 2017 in Bergen, Norway. Again, it was Dumoulin first and Roglic second. Primoz, how did you consider Tom?
Primoz Roglic: “Tom was a great champion. He had just won the Giro d’Italia. He became time trial world champion in Norway which confirmed his status… Of course, I wanted to win there, but I didn’t have a chance against him that day. The silver was a great result for me at that time.”
Tom Dumoulin: “Now I’ve found out how special a world title time trial is. That it’s not easy to repeat it every year.”
Was Tom an example to you? A TT rider who could win a world title and a Grand Tour quite early in his career…
Roglic: “I certainly looked at how Tom had built his career. In 2015 he almost won the Vuelta a España, while I only made my WorldTour debut in 2016… he had a few years on me. I saw how he developed every season.
“As a young, ambitious rider, you always look at how the very best map out their careers. I also wanted to become an all-rounder who could get on well in the laps. Who could compete with the best both uphill and in the time trial. I always stress that I’m not a TT specialist or a pure climber. Especially in a flat time trial there are 50 riders who can do better. However, on a hilly course I can achieve a good time and regularly vye for victory. The same goes for climbing. On both long mountain passes and steep climbs I can go with the best, but I’m not a specialist in that field either.”
Dumoulin: “After Apeldoorn, I took notice of Primoz. He’s reduced the advantage I had on him every year. Now he is already better than me on many levels.
“We can both ride a good time trial. On the flat we compete, as Primoz says, against specialists like Rohan Dennis. Uphill we can also ride with the best, which makes us fairly complete classification riders. I think we both made the same progress in our first years. Only Primoz has done it a lot faster than me.”
How well did you know each other before you became team-mates at Jumbo-Visma?
Dumoulin: “We hardly had any contact with each other. At the start of a race I’d chat with him. And Primoz would say, ‘I’m so f—ed. Today, I’m so f—ed. I’m done, huh? My legs are really finished!’ He’d insist that he’s not in good shape. Then, in the finale, he rides the stars of heaven.”
Roglic: “I hope by saying this Tom, you won’t attack too quickly when we’re racing…”
Dumoulin: “Yeah, but you say it every day. Even in training you try to tell your team-mates that.”
Roglic: “He’s telling the truth, a little bit. It’s not easy being good all the time. So, I don’t think I’m fooling anyone.”
Primoz, how do you look back on your 2019 success? Not only the Vuelta victory but also the wins in the UAE Tour, Tirreno-Adriatico and Tour de Romandie, GP Emilia and Tre Valli Varesine… plus third in the Giro d’Italia. You were first in the UCI world rankings with a huge advantage.
Roglic: “I never dreamed that I would become a cyclist of this level. It was an incredible year. Of course, that makes me feel fantastic and I enjoyed it. But it’s also in my character to keep striving, to keep raising my standards.
“I don’t think I’ve reached my peak in 2019. The previous years I also won several stage races, while I finished the Tour de France of 2018 in fourth. “I think there is a gradual build-up in my career. I don’t think I’ve skipped any steps. We’ve been working hard for a couple of years now with a certain goal in mind. It’s great to finish the season in first place, but it’s even better to stay at the top. You always have to be busy with the next step you want to take. The final victory in the Tour de France is the next challenge for me.”
In an interview early in 2019, you already told us that you’re planning your entire career to win the Tour de France within two to three years.
Roglic: “Winning the Tour is my big goal. I’ve been working towards that for years. I think it’s realistic that I can win the Tour this year. Of course, that’s always easy to say at the beginning of the season. We see that this year because of the COVID-19 more emphatically than ever.”
Taking on Ineos Grenadier
Before last year’s Tour, the management of Jumbo-Visma asked Roglic and Kruijswijk their opinion about the possible recruitment of Dumoulin. While Kruijswijk asked for a few days to reflect before offering his opinion, Roglic was immediately enthusiastic.
Roglic: “Yes, I saw this as a unique opportunity to provide the team. Tom is a great cyclist and a nice person. If you want to compete for final victory in the Tour, you need the strongest possible team. Tom is one of the strongest Tour riders of this generation. We need someone like that to compete with Team Ineos’ combination of Chris Froome, Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas. I think the team made a very good move.”
Starting with three leaders in the Tour is something new for both of you. Do you still have to learn to deal with that?
Dumoulin: “I can’t answer that. It’s something new for all three of us. None of us is afraid of that role. Speaking for myself, I’m just happy to share the lead.
“In my search for a new team I also wanted a team where a Grand Tour is not the only card of mine that is played. At Sunweb I was almost always played as the only leader the last few years. At that team, it was explicitly communicated that they only rode for Tom. I didn’t like that. If I have good legs, I really want to have the freedom to ride for my own chance. When someone else in the team is better, I find it annoying when they still have to ride for me. I wasn’t looking for that role in another team.”
Roglic: “In cycling, it’s all about constantly improving. To stand still is to go backwards. If you want to go one step higher, you have to look at all areas to see how you can be stronger. I believe that, with this combination, we can take another step and achieve even better results.”
More leaders in a Grand Tour seems to be a new trend in modern cycling. Not only the wealthy Team Ineos has that luxury. Movistar has also had multiple leaders over the years. In the past, however, almost every team played the card of just one leader.
Dumoulin: “In cycling this is indeed not something new. Look how successfully Team Ineos deals with this division of roles every year. This has worked well with them for years. Of course, there must have been some friction because someone was trapped with good legs. That will come with us as well. It’ll be the same for us and we’ll need to communicate well.
“As long as we accept that everyone gets a fair chance to realise their own ambition, I don’t see any problems. I also think that we, as a team, have the strength to deal with that, especially with the coaching support that exists.”
Roglic: “It’s probably also because the ambitions of the better teams have increased. Focusing on one race and one rider has its risks. If the leader drops out due to bad luck or an injury, you are left empty-handed. That’s certainly too big a risk in the Tour de France. Then you need riders who fill this place. Look at Ineos. Last year, Froome crashed out of the season at the Dauphiné, but with Bernal and Thomas they were able to finish first and second in the Tour!
“I can now list 10 to 15 riders and nobody would find it strange if they are soon seen on the podium in Paris. If we are able to win big races, then it is something very special and beautiful for everyone who is part of that team.”
Dumoulin: “Of course all three of us would like to win the Tour de France. And it’s this ambition that we will take to the start in Nice. We’ve already had a few good meetings about that. I think it’s mainly about honesty. If I’m not good enough within my own team, so be it… If I stayed with Sunweb and Primoz is stronger, I would have had to resign myself to that as well.
“You have to be so honest. If I’m not the best, I don’t even want the race ridden for me. If we’re all like that, we can show something really beautiful.
“Our goal is to win the Tour as a team. We have to find out for ourselves who is the best and who we have to play as the final leader. I think it will soon become clear in the Tour who is the best. We all get the chance to demonstrate that. When it becomes clear, it’s logical that we will ride for the strongest. Then we have to accept that role. I’m convinced it can work out well for the three of us.”
Roglic: “We can talk about this for six months and go through 5,000 different scenarios. Then something happens in the Tour, causing the cards to be shuffled immediately. It’s not as complicated as everybody makes it out to be. The decision always falls in the last three to five kilometres of a final climb. You’re challenged to respond and either you can or you can’t. It’s then no longer a question of getting the freedom. The strongest wins. This isn’t complex mathematics. It’s more important that we focus on how to create the situation that we are able to win the Tour. How do we get to the point where the best of us can ride away from the competition?”
Primoz, what can you learn from Tom?
Roglic: “Now that we’ve talked a few times, it’s clear to me that we’re pretty much alike. There’s a lot of mutual respect. I know what sacrifices Tom has to make to reach this level. That it’s really not just talent. No matter how good you are, you’re gonna have to work really hard to get to the level to win a Grand Tour.”
Dumoulin: “I recognise in Primoz that he doesn’t really look up to anyone. Like me, he’s not busy copying things from other top riders. He maps out his own path in cycling. But of course, we also try to learn by looking at how competitors do certain things. If you see new things in their training of course, then you try to fit them in your own routine. By the way, I think this applies to all top cyclists. Nobody copies anyone else. Everybody’s mainly trying to improve themselves.”
Surely now as team-mates you two are more alike?
Dumoulin: “It’s always good to see up close how a top rider deals with certain things. Primoz will now look at me and take certain things from me. But nine out of 10 times he will always do it his own way. I can already see that he is doing things in the same way that I am. For example, I look at how he sits on his bike, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be in the same position right away. Of course, you try to learn from the presence of the other person.”
When I consider your characters, Primoz, you seem more introverted and Tom seems to be more extroverted…
Dumoulin: “I’m not so sure you see it all that well… Maybe Primoz is a little quieter towards the outside world, but he certainly isn’t within the squad.”
Roglic: “I can imagine that, as a journalist, you have that feeling. I certainly try to save as much energy as possible in a big race and ignore the peripheral business. As a favourite and certainly as a leader you have to do so many ‘unnecessary’ things after the finish. I try to shut myself off a bit from that. I’m already working on how to achieve the maximum recovery from my efforts or I want to prepare for the next stage so I can perform optimally.
“For me, these are much more important things than opening up at a press conference. I know it’s part of my job and my position, but they are just side issues. That’s probably why, at the Vuelta for example, I may have come across as blunt and maybe I didn’t necessarily reveal the person I really am.”
Dumoulin: “We haven’t really raced together much yet, but I’ve already seen that Primoz is a completely different person on the team. Journalists describe him as someone who is closed and responds briefly. When we’re among the guys that’s certainly not the case. I think at those moments I might still be a more reserved personality than him.”
– Interview by Raymond Kerckhoffs
*Note: this interview was done at the start of the 2020 season.