sad story, huh?
a short note on the roglič exit
Perhaps the 16th Stage of La Vuelta will be one of those days in cycling where everyone remembers what they were doing when it happened: the dramatic collapse of Primož Roglič.
I was in a hotel room alone, staring at the screen in the same disbelief felt by everyone else watching around the world. I couldn’t process the cruel absurdity of it. He simply fell — touched elbows with Fred Wright trying to get in the slipstream and fell. Slowly, he got up, rode to the finish line bleeding, the devastated look in his eyes searching for something a million miles away from his body. The devastation we saw was the truth. According to Addy Engels, his DS, after crossing the line, Roglič was barely responsive. Like a living pietà, he sat down wounded against the barriers, and then everyone knew — there was nothing left. This was it.
One, of course, wonders, how can this happen so often to one man? What strange cosmic bargain did he make to deserve such a bizarre plague of crashes and mishaps? This man, who so often makes miracles out of tragedies, for the first time in his long legacy, could not do so again. Something had shifted, a kind of threshold had passed. Life, it seemed, had finally caught up with Primož Roglič, as it does for most of us. As it has for me, also.
Roglič’s grand escapades, as I have written many times, inspire all of us who are in some way at the end of our ropes, who need a little something to push through to the other side of our troubles, both quotidian and exceptional. But at what point has this gift for all of us come at the expense of the man himself? It seems we have reached it. The pain and injury from the Tour, the sudden decision to go the Vuelta barely trained, the strife of trying to overcome pain, ride into form and compete at the highest level simultaneously — all of these things must have taken their toll on Roglič both mentally and physically until everything became too much to bear and a fatal mistake was made.
I’ll admit, I haven’t really been watching the Vuelta. Rather unexpectedly, I’m in a van in Switzerland winding up switchbacks draped in fog following Tadej Pogačar’s charity ride as it slowly makes its way back to Zurich, from which I’ll fly to Ljubljana one last time to run out the days on my tourist visa saying goodbye to all the people I love there. I, too, was hoping that Roglič would pull through and make a story out of himself again. I even expected this — so much so, I tuned out the Vuelta for the last few stages in order to work and travel, unworried. Everything was going to plan. I confess that I, like so many others, in some way needed him to win — to pull through so I could imitate him in pulling through. Like Roglič, I’m very much at the end of my rope. In a different way, I, too, have given too much of myself over to this sport.
What doesn’t make it in the nice interviews I give about my work is that all of this has cost me significantly. I’ve spent huge amounts of my own money, the money people my age use to pay off debt or save for a house, covering bike races. Choosing to live in Europe during the summer, paying two rents in order to do so, caused considerable strain on my marriage. I got a call from my agent during my last week in Ljubljana informing me that the loss of Tadej Pogačar in the Tour de France meant a book on Slovenian cycling was no longer salable. (I fully intend to write this book but will simply have to wait for the market to open back up again.) And yet, Roglič himself says, no risk, no glory. Kdor ne reskira, ne profitira. Perhaps, like Roglič (and equally unwilling to admit it to myself) I have reached the threshold of risk. Seeing someone push themselves past the brink has made me wonder if I’m doing the same.
Setting aside my personal anxieties, I’m not sure what to say about the loss other than it’s objectively very sad. Perhaps this is why so many people — fans, journalists, competing teams and riders, took to social media to wish Roglič well. For Roglič, a rider who so often becomes a vessel for our own longing for salvation, even those of us who are supposed to be impartial or adversarial expressed genuine sympathy and wished it wasn’t so. For writers, the story of the Vuelta was disrupted and those of us who love a good narrative had to make due with a less dynamic one (though I would argue there is merit in the steady rise of Remco Evenepoel despite him not having to go toe to toe with our modern-day Roberto Heras.)
Longtime readers of my work know that it is heavily intertwined with Roglič, and that Roglič himself played a significant role in my becoming a cycling journalist. Hence, selfish as it is, when he crashed it felt impossible not to say something to the effect of what everyone else has said: that I wish Primož nothing but a easy, peaceful recovery and that I have faith he will rise from the ashes again, even if it doesn’t happen until next season.
There’s a passage from the book Signs by the Roadside by the Yugoslav writer Ivo Andrić I always think of when things become unbearably difficult, when I am overcome with despair and sadness, when I have all but lost the will to continue but must continue anyway:
‘Et tamen dies oritur!’
That must have been said on a day like today. Dawn has banished the summer night, the glow of the young sun surges and gushes on all sides, the day approaches relentlessly.
‘And yet the day breaks,’ I say, and it seems to me that in that single short word — ‘yet’ — and the stress that it carries, lies the whole weight of human life.
For Primož Roglič, too, the day will break again.
I am sure of it.
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