Feature | Road Cycling

Primoz Roglic - the ski jumper turned Tour de France favourite

The 30-year-old Slovenian doesn't have a typical background for a top road cyclist, but has quickly become the dangerman in the peloton.

By ZK Goh ·

From Planica to the Alps, Slovenia's Primoz Roglic has always had an affinity for the mountains.

But practically no one would say a background in ski jumping would lead to a successful career in road cycling.

Not even Roglic, one of the most dangerous men in the professional UCI World Tour peloton who started his sporting career that way.

The Slovenian, who claimed his first Grand Tour victory in the 2019 Vuelta a España, has long been referred to as "the guy who used to be a ski jumper" by casual cycling fans and some in the media.

It's a tag the 30-year-old embraces, with his Instagram description being "Ex skijumper from Slovenia, now a pro cyclist".

Now, he is one of the favourites to win the Tour de France after a meteoric rise in his seven years in professional cycling.

But could it have worked out differently for the 30-year-old?

Primoz Roglic's childhood and ski jumping years

Primoz Roglic was born on 29 October 1989 in Trbovlje, then part of the former Yugoslavia which was soon to be split up into its different constituent countries.

Unlike its neighbours, Slovenia escaped the bulk of the Balkans conflict and young Roglic was able to grow up in Kisovec, an old mining village, in relative peace.

An only child, his father - a former miner - worked at a local plant while his housewife mother raised him.

Cycling was not on the radar with Slovenia far better known for ski jumping, especially the world-renowned Planica hill.

So the youngster took up ski jumping, a sport in which having a lean frame and keeping the weight off pays dividends.

He explained to VeloNews magazine, "It was like flying. I liked the feeling. It’s something everyone dreams of doing. I wanted to be the best ski jumper in the world."

Those early years – Roglic took part in his first FIS competition in 2003 aged just 13 – yielded some decent success.

He had two FIS Continental Cup wins, and also won silver as part of the Slovenian team at the 2006 Nordic Junior World Ski Championships in Kranj, before upgrading that to gold the following year at Planica.

Roglic was airlifted to hospital unconscious after crashing at Planica a few weeks after the 2007 junior worlds, but escaped serious injury and continued ski jumping until January 2011 when he took part in his last competition aged 21.

Switching sports

Unable to challenge the very best in the sport, Roglic decided to call it quits.

He tried different sports to try to fill the void.

Cycling won out although it was far from a natural switch.

He said, "I felt it was time for a change. I liked cycling and thought, 'Why not? I will try to become professional.'

"When I was a ski jumper, I was not allowed to ride the bike because it would bulk you up."

Roglic began cycling professionally in 2013 and quickly progressed through the lower ranks.

Since joining the Netherlands-based Jumbo-Visma team in 2016, the Slovenian has quickly developed a reputation as a strong climber and time trial specialist.

He's also come to be known in the team for drinking non-alcoholic beer to rehydrate after races.

The 2016 Giro d'Italia – Roglic's first Grand Tour – proved to be pivotal in his rise to the top of his new sport.

He finished second in the time trial opener and won stage nine, another time trial.

That was his first World Tour win, and people were starting to take notice of the "guy who used to be a ski jumper".

After finishing 10th in the Rio 2016 Olympic time trial, his stock grew even more.

Victory in Serre Chevalier on stage 17 of the 2017 Tour de France – which included a pass over the legendary Col du Galibier – marked him out as a threat in the mountains as well.

In doing so, Roglic became the first Slovenian to win a Tour stage.

Jovial but serious – and a real threat

The Slovenian brings both a joviality and a seriousness to Jumbo-Visma that his team appreciate.

"His development as a cyclist, [for] a former ski jumper, is phenomenal," Jumbo-Visma sporting director Merijn Zeeman told VeloNews after Roglic clinched his second World Tour stage race overall win at the 2018 Tour de Romandie, just three weeks after his first at the Vuelta al País Vasco. "As a person, as a cyclist, and as leader of this team, he’s a fantastic person to work with."

Jumbo-Visma have pinned their hopes on him for the big races and Grand Tours, a move which paid off at last year's Vuelta.

That triumph came in just his fifth Grand Tour, further proof of his rapid ascent to the top of road cycling.

He is now one of the favourites to break Team Ineos' stranglehold on the yellow jersey in Paris.

Ineos' then-sporting director, the late Nicolas Portal, said last year: "Of all the riders out there who could be a danger man, I see Roglic right at the top. What he did at the Vuelta was impressive."

While the transition from ski jumping to cycling wasn't the most straightforward, there were some areas of cross-over.

He said, "We did a lot of work with core strength, balance, flexibility and acrobatics. All that helps me on the bike."

Roglic's success has put cycling firmly on the map in Slovenia, and led to him being named Slovenia's Sportsman of the Year in 2019, an accolade won four times by ski jumper Peter Prevc (2013-2016) with ice hockey ace Anze Kopitar (2012) and basketball star Luka Doncic (2018) among the recent winners.

The yellow jersey - cycling's most coveted prize - would almost certainly see him retain that crown.

If he does win it, perhaps he'll have a non-alcoholic beer to celebrate!