Junior world ski champion Primoz Roglic ascends to claim inaugural UAE Tour triumph

Matt Jones - Editor 21:10 02/03/2019
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To triumph at a week-long race containing some of the greatest names in cycling is an impressive feat. To beat them when you’re predominantly a skier who didn’t even take up cycling until seven years ago, that’s just mind-blowing.

And yet likes of Elia Viviani, Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Alejandro Valverde, Tom Dumoulin and Vincenzo Nibali all trailed in the wake of rising Slovenian star Primoz Roglic in the Emirates this week.

Roglic was junior world ski jumping champion in 2007. Twelve years on, the 29-year-old is conquering slopes of a very different kind – winning the arduous Stage 6 atop Jebel Jais on Friday before finishing safely in the pack in Dubai on Saturday to claim overall UAE Tour victory, 31 seconds ahead of world champion Valverde.

Not only did Roglic reign supreme at the inaugural race – the Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours of previous years amalgamated to form a UAE super race – he was in control all week. Ever since helping his Jumbo-Visma team claim time trial glory on the opening stage on Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudayriat Island.

Roglic is continuing where he left off from an immense 2018 – during which he won the Tour of the Basque Country, Tour de Romandie and the Tour of Slovenia (for a second time) in his homeland.

Congratulated on his win and asked by one journalist if it was true he only bought his first race bike six years ago, Roglic replied: “Thank you. It’s true, yes. I first had a bike in 2012.

“Before, I was riding the bikes I was a ski jumper. Sometimes it seems like it goes by easily and quickly but for sure that’s not what like it felt like for me. It felt like a really hard start and now I’m happy and grateful to be in the position I am.”

Roglic’s rise has been rapid. You can imagine he was one of those kids at school who was annoyingly adept at any sport.

He only took up cycling in 2012, quitting ski jumping because he felt it was too hard to get to the sport’s highest level.

In the ensuing seven years, however, he’s slowly been ascending to the summit of cycling. His 2015 Tour of Slovenia earned him a big move to LottoNL-Jumbo (now Jumbo-Visma). A first Grand Tour victory followed in the opening time trial at the 2016 Giro d’Italia. In 2017 he won the Volta ao Algarve and a maiden stage victory at the Tour de France.

He exploded last year and cycling’s late bloomer is flourishing at just the right time. The Abu Dhabi and Dubai Tours have long attracted big names, but they were out in force this year with the event given WorldTour status on debut.

Roglic was in the red jersey throughout but the all-rounder – who finished second behind Valverde on the first mountain stage atop Jebel Hafeet on Tuesday before coming third on the predominantly sprinter friendly Stage 4 – magnanimously thanked his team-mates for leading him to glory.

“It’s true, there were a lot of big names here,” he added. “We showed from day one with the team time trial how strong a team we had here, and we proved that every day. For me it was a real pleasure and I’m happy I could finish on top at the end. A really big thanks go to the team.”

Roglic was also pleasantly surprised by the arduous nature of the Tour – his first visit to the Emirates – having heard stories from other riders that previous events were “easy and boring”.

“I heard before coming to this race from some guys that it’s a really easy race and quite boring but I think it was quite far from that,” he added.

“Starting with the team time trial it was full gas, and two summit finishes and the same on Hatta Dam. Wind and sand in the desert, so a lot of racing. I’m really happy to go home now and take some rest.”

Sam Bennett, of Bora-Hansgrohe, outsprinted the rest of the field on Dubai’s City Walk on Saturday, including previous stage winners Fernando Gaviria, Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani – who settled with winning the points classification. Valverde and best young rider David Gaudu rounded out the final podium.

Irishman Bennett won three stages at the Giro last year on his way to runners-up spot in the points jersey behind Viviani, but ranks this stage win – ahead of the Italian, Gaviria, Caleb Ewan and Alexander Kristoff – among his best achievements.

“It’s one of the toughest competitions here, there’s so many top guys. It’s a high standard,” said the 28-year-old Belgian-born sprinter.

“I suppose on paper the Giro looks most impressive but even with fourth place the other day (Bennett finished behind top guns Viviani, Gaviria and Kittel) it was a big achievement to be competing with the best guys in the world.

“To do it again and to prove I should be here, and win, it makes me very happy. You could see on the line my relief.”

Bennett is on the same team as Peter Sagan – again one of cycling’s sprinting cyclones – and won’t be going to the Giro this year. But he believes wins like this show he has the prowess be a team leader at big races.

“Regarding the Giro, of course I wanted to go but I respect the team’s decision and there’s other races for me to go to and try and win. I just want to take every opportunity I can and do my best,” he added.

“I think it (winning) gives team-mates confidence. They’ve worked hard and never let me down but it gets that little bit extra out of them. Good for morale. Same when they go to a race with Peter, they know they have to do something. But it can’t do any harm in contract year.”

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