Primož Roglič finally banished his time trialling demons on a dramatic day at the Giro d’Italia, overcoming an untimely and seemingly catastrophic mechanical halfway up the brutal Monte Lussari to secure a dominant stage win and wrest the pink jersey off the shoulders of a heartbroken Geraint Thomas.
The Jumbo-Visma rider – who dramatically lost the lead of the 2020 Tour de France during a penultimate day mountain time trial – completed the ride of his life to beat the Ineos Grenadiers leader, on the cusp of becoming the oldest ever Giro winner, by 40 seconds on the day, and by just 14 seconds overall, to fittingly and thrillingly cap a grand tour defined by the tightest of margins.
Those tight margins couldn’t have been clearer than when Roglič was forced to step off his bike after dropping his chain on a rough section of the steep final climb, while leading Thomas (who still managed to finish second on the stage) by 16 seconds.
But while his Jumbo-Visma teammates stared in shock at the screen in a scene eerily reminiscent of that 2020 time trial on La Planche des Belles Filles, the Slovenian – three years older and wiser – continued unrattled and unshaken to take the greatest victory of his career, and secure his first ever Giro d’Italia win.
“It’s just amazing. It’s not just about the win itself, but the people. The energy here is just incredible,” Roglič, who was roared on up Monte Lussari by throngs of his fellow Slovenians, who had crossed the border into Italy for the day, said at the finish. “These are moments to live, and to remember.”
Asked about his mechanical problem, the Jumbo-Visma rider said: “I dropped the chain. It’s part of it. I didn’t fear [losing] at all, I put it back, and I started and just went on. You don’t want these things to happen, but like I said, I put the chain back on.
“I had the legs and the people gave me extra watts. One day more to go and focus on. It’s not over until the finish, but it looks good.”
While the Jumbo-Visma camp erupted as Roglič stormed his way to the pink jersey, a much more sombre and reflective mood dominated the Ineos camp, forced to settle – after Richard Carapaz’s defeat last year – for another last-gasp near miss at the Giro, despite Geraint Thomas barely putting a foot wrong throughout the three weeks.
“I could feel my legs going about a kilometre and a half from the top of the climb,” an emotional Thomas told GCN’s Adam Blythe at the finish. “I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses… I guess it’s nice to lose by that much, and not a second or two, because that would be worse, I think.
“At least he smashed me. Primož deserves that, he had a mechanical and he still put 40 seconds into me. So chapeau to him.
“If you’d told me this back in February, March, I’d have bitten your hand off, but now I’m devastated. But with the season I’ve had up to this point, I can be proud of that. Just gutted for the boys, they’ve worked so hard.”
When asked about his plans for the rest of the season, and a possible tilt at the Tour de France in July, Thomas replied in typical, sardonic fashion: “Mate, it’s over for me now. I’m on the piss for the next two months!”
It’s perhaps fitting that Primož Roglič’s redemption would be secured on a day, and at the end of a grand tour, so strikingly similar to the one that has defined, and haunted him, for almost three years.
Like the 2020 Tour de France, this Giro d’Italia was a slow burner, a race of marginal gains and cagey moves from the main GC contenders; where even in the seemingly decisive final week in the mountains, shifts in the pink jersey race – usually a cinematic experience – were inspected through a magnifying glass, every second counting, for drama’s sake at least.
Lucky for the Giro organisers then who, despite having to withstand the frustrated and bored cries echoing from the stalls for over two, grim, weather-affected weeks, got their wish of a repeat of La Planche des Belles Filles, with pink jersey Thomas, Roglič, and the slightly faltering João Almeida all in with a shout on Monte Lussari.
The ‘throw a blanket over them’ narrative of this year’s GC race even continued on the flat, rolling part of today’s time trial, as a handful of seconds separated the leading trio just after the crucial bike change.
It was there, in that 25 metre zone of nerves and panic, that Roglič began to flip the story etched into his career, seemingly for good.
For two and a half years, and like Laurent Fignon before him, he’s been the guy who lost the Tour in the final TT, not the guy who’s won three Vueltas.
But in that bike change zone, the Slovenian was smooth, calm. Thomas, meanwhile, lost time by choosing to switch from his time trial lid to a more breathable road one for the furnace of that shockingly steep final climb.
— Giro d'Italia (@giroditalia) May 27, 2023
It didn’t decide the outcome of the final Giro, but Thomas did ship precious seconds to his rival in that one section where he stood painfully still. Just like 2020, helmets became a talking point, an aesthetic distraction from the blunt sporting force taking place further up the road.
But then, just as it all began to hang in the balance, the ghosts that have haunted Roglič returned for one last bit of mischief. A bump in the road, a dropped chain, teammates’ hands flying up in the air in pained exasperation – the unthinkable was happening again.
But this was a different Primož Roglič from the one who collapsed in full view of the world in September 2020. As he said in his typically nonchalant post-race interview, he simply put the chain back on, got pushed on his way, and returned, calm as you like, to bludgeoning his way up the mountain.
Behind, Geraint Thomas – whose passage through this Giro was as serene as it was unexpected – began to wither in the Italian heat and the Slovenian atmosphere, but importantly didn’t collapse. The Welshman, as the clock ticked by with no remorse, still managed second on the stage, 40 seconds behind Roglič and two ahead of Almeida.
Just like the new pink jersey way back when, Thomas was simply the victim of a once in a lifetime performance, one that will come to define this chaotic and confusing Giro d’Italia and, no doubt, redefine its winner.
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.