The two lives of Primož Roglič were linked together when a former ski jumping teammate pushed him toward the overall title at the Giro d’Italia.
Mark Cavendish got some help from a former teammate, too, when the British sprinter won Sunday’s final stage with a leadout from Geraint Thomas — less than a week after announcing that he will retire at the end of the season.
In a sport where meticulous planning can only go so far, it was two unexpected circumstances that propelled Roglič and Cavendish atop the podium.
One of the key moments for Roglič came in Saturday’s mountain time trial when he rode over a pothole and his chain popped loose on one of the steepest sections up to Monte Lussari.
After Roglič put the chain back in place by himself and was aided by a Jumbo Visma team staff member, another man wearing a red shirt ran down the mountain and helped push him back into action — and then kept running alongside for encouragement.
Roglič went on to win the penultimate stage and take the pink jersey from Thomas before Sunday’s mostly ceremonious ride over the cobblestoned streets of Rome.
On Sunday, Roglič confirmed that the man in the red shirt was Mitja Meznar who, along with Roglič, was a member of the Slovenian squad that won a gold medal in team ski jumping at the 2007 junior Nordic world championships in Planica, Slovenia, and Tarvisio — the same town where Monte Lussari is located.
“I didn’t speak with him yet because yesterday I was too much focused (when) I saw him. I just put my chain back on and I looked down. I was just thinking, ‘Push, push, push,'” Roglič said.
“He’s a super good friend, you can say my roommate,” Roglič added, marvelling that it happened in the same place as their ski jumping title. “So it’s just incredible.”
The 33-year-old Roglič stopped ski jumping in 2012 and took up cycling and has now won a fourth Grand Tour to go with his three Spanish Vuelta titles.
Meznar competed in ski jumping at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Roglič, the first Slovenian to win the Giro, finished 14 seconds ahead of Thomas and one minute, 15 seconds ahead of Joao Almeida in the overall standings.
It’s the smallest finishing gap between the top riders in the Giro since Eddy Merckx won by 12 seconds ahead of Gianbattista Baronchelli in 1974.
Riding a pink bike and wearing a pink helmet and pink socks, Roglič took it easy during the 135-kilometre stage that concluded next to the Roman Forum.
During the podium celebrations, Roglič’s son, Lev, joined him on the stage and seemed more excited than his dad.
“I’m trying to enjoy all the emotions, and everything that happened yesterday,” Roglič said.
“At the end, it’s always nice to win, in this spectacular city … all these amazing buildings, it’s super beautiful.”
Cavendish claimed the 54th Grand Tour stage win of his career — and he had Thomas to thank for it. The pair were together at Team Sky more than a decade ago and have also been teammates for years with Britain at the world championships.
“I kind of said jokingly, ‘Fancy leading out?'” Cavendish said. “(Thomas) just shouted, ‘Cav,’ and just went. He’s so special. For 25 years he’s been one of my best friends.
“To see how optimistic he is despite losing the maglia rosa. That’s him down to a ‘T.’ It’s how he’s always been, he always sees the glass half full.
“That’s why he’s special. More than any bike rider, he’s a good person, good friend, good teammate.”
Cavendish started his sprint early enough that he was ahead of a crash in the final straight involving several riders.
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“Well, if I couldn’t win, I thought I might as well try and help an old mate out,” Thomas tweeted, “Call it an early retirement pressie.”
Also, at age 38 Cavendish became the oldest rider to win a Giro stage, beating the record held by Paolo Tiralongo, who was 37 when he won a stage in 2015.
“My first Grand Tour victory was in 2008 in the Giro, down in Reggio Calabria,” Cavendish said. “To win here in Rome it’s beautiful. That’s a bucket-list win to do, outside the Colosseum.
“I couldn’t end my racing career in Italy any better than winning in the Giro d’Italia in Rome,” Cavendish added. “It’s really perfect.”
Alex Kirsch finished second in the stage and Filippo Fiorelli crossed third.
Cavendish will next attempt to break his tie with Eddy Merckx for the most career wins at the Tour de France — 34.
“Any win gives you confidence for the next time you win,” Cavendish said.
Roglič however, would not commit to riding the Tour — now the only Grand Tour that he hasn’t won.
“We all know what is missing in my ‘palmares,'” Roglič said. “We’ll see. I’m not going to stress about it now.”
Roglič, who excels at climbing, descending and time trialling — won three consecutive Vueltas in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
“Every Grand Tour situation is always a new challenge and you cannot compare them,” Roglič said. “You cannot compare a Giro to a Tour or a Vuelta. Everything to win has its own challenges. Obviously a Giro was one I was hunting this year.”