Roglič instigates bizarre, uncharacteristic war of words in aftermath of Vuelta crash

Jumbo-Visma woke up on the morning of Friday, September 9, saw the spiraling aftermath of Queen Elizabeth II’s death and the sleepy nature of the Vuelta stage 19, and chose war.

While brands were busying themselves with increasingly deranged tributes to one of history’s longest reigning monarchs, Jumbo-Visma said “hold my cerveza” and cooked up something they’ve filed under the ‘longread’ section of their website.

‘One crash too many for Primož Roglič, although there is hope for safer racing,’ reads the headline, released at 3pm European time mid-Vuelta stage, containing quotes from the Slovenian on his Vuelta-ending crash in the finale of stage 16.

“This was not okay,” Roglič says in the article after an intro describing how the Slovenian was “fighting off the pain” and that the issue needing to be discussed was “how” he “suffered that hurt.”

“This shouldn’t happen,” Roglič continued. “People move on swiftly as if nothing happened. For me, that doesn’t apply. This is not the way I want the sport to continue and I want to make that clear.”

Roglič is just warming up, however.

“After the crash, it took me time to straighten things out. I asked myself: how can this be? My conclusion is that the way this crash happened is unacceptable. Not everyone saw it correctly. The crash was not caused by a bad road or a lack of safety but by a rider’s behavior. I don’t have eyes on my back. Otherwise, I would have run wide. Wright came from behind and rode the handlebars out of my hands before I knew it.”

Let’s revisit the crash. After attacking to try and take a few seconds from Remco Evenepoel’s GC lead, Primož Roglič swings off his position at the head of the group he helped clip off the front of the peloton. Trek-Segafredo’s Mads Pedersen was in his wheel and unfurls his sprint for the line, Pascal Ackermann, Danny van Poppel and Fred Wright in pursuit. Roglič then moves himself back over into the group that is sprinting for stage honors. As Roglič comes in, Wright barely moves an inch, and is tucked in fairly close to the barrier. Wright can’t go any further right. He is accelerating, as is the whole group, because it’s a sprint and that’s what you do.

So when Roglič moves himself back into the group, going at a slower speed than Wright, he gets swept away, a clipping of handlebars and he’s on the floor. Vuelta over.

It is possible for two things to be true at once: that Fred Wright was just sprinting and did nothing wrong, and that Roglič was taken by surprise when the two came into contact. But normal sprinting rules dictate that the rider swinging into the group needs to make sure there’s space before doing so. It’s not Wright’s responsibility to make room with 60 meters to go, particularly when he’s already up against the barrier.

It is clear from his strong reaction that Roglič is experiencing a bout of buyer’s remorse over how he helped stage 16 play out but is placing all of the blame on the shoulders of the 23-year-old Fred Wright.

These comments from the three-time Vuelta winner are out of character for the rider we’ve come to know over the last few years. They feel decidedly old-school, more football manager handbags at dawn than the stiff upper lip of cycling. If you had to guess which rider of the Vuelta peloton would be indulging in this sort of thing, Roglič would be fairly far down on your list of candidates. The fact that Fred Wright is the recipient of such vitriol makes for a doubly-perplexing state of affairs.

Jumbo-Visma are not done just yet though. The team’s managing director, Richard Plugge, also wants a word.

“Research shows that the riders’ cycling behavior is to blame for a crash in about half the cases. Not braking, but pushing through, for example. It doesn’t surprise me because every rider has the will to win. I would like to say: brake and use your brains. It requires a change of behavior, driven by awareness and consistent judgment,” Plugge writes without a hint of irony from his yellow and black ivory tower somewhere in the Netherlands.

“Ten years ago, the older riders were sounding the alarm because the younger ones showed less respect, took irresponsible risks, and pushed their way through everything. The younger ones of yesteryear are the older riders of today. But you still hear the same discussion, even though we are a generation ahead. So that has to change. I’m glad that Primoz is speaking out, looking in the mirror and naming the behavior of riders as well.”

Given that anyone with eyes located in any part of their head can see what happened in that sprint finish, and the fact that Plugge is a former journalist who you’d hope would have somewhat of a grip on PR strategy and how this sort of thing looks, we’re veering towards the unhinged here. The weight of one of the most moneyed and successful teams in the peloton calling out an individual young rider in what is by no means a cut-and-dry case.

Whatever your opinions are on the incident, it is nevertheless absolutely chaotic and unexpected that a team state their feelings about a race incident so publicly and unashamedly.

It begs the question as to what Jumbo-Visma hopes to achieve here. Is a 650-word wrongful condemnation really going to stop Primož Roglič from crashing?

And how much input has Roglič had in this? If this has come at the request of the Slovenian then we need to tear up everything we thought we knew about the usually calm and collected GC rider.

What can be said for sure is that Jumbo-Visma are clearly hurting. At least, they would have had at least a Tour de France victory and a Vuelta a España podium this year, and Roglič was looking ready to push Remco Evenepoel close in the final week of the Spanish Grand Tour. Instead of this season’s victories tasting sweet, this unconventional and kind of icky rant has left a bitter taste in the mouth.

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