Little-known riders continue to hit the headlines in the three stage races taking place this week in Oman, Portugal and Spain—all of which had summit finishes on Thursday. After Ben Hermans took Wednesday’s hilltop stage finish in Oman, another surprise name came up with the stage win 24 hours later: Søren Kragh Andersen. It was the 22-year-old Dane’s first victory since turning pro with Dutch team Giant (now Sunweb). That was a nice story, but the big news of the day was taking place on the Iberian peninsula: a stage win at the Ruta del Sol for FDJ’s French climber Thibaut Pinot ahead of Trek-Segafredo newbie Alberto Contador (who took the overall lead), and a narrow victory at the Volta ao Algarve for Quick-Step’s Dan Martin over LottoNL-Jumbo’s Primož Roglič—who would likely displace Martin on GC in Friday’s time trial.

Words: John Wilcockson | Image: Yuzuru Sunada

So, who is Primož Roglič?

Until now, the 27-year-old Slovenian is best known for winning the rain-affected Chianti time-trial stage at last year’s Giro d’Italia, where his background as a Nordic ski jumper made for an unusual side note. But his performance on Thursday confirmed that, besides being a world-class time trialist, the 5-foot-9, 143-pound Roglič has the ability to become a solid GC rider too.

Roglič grew up in the small town of Kisovec, a one-time coal mining community in the central mountains of Slovenia (part of the former Yugoslavia). Ski jumping is one of the country’s most popular sports and it attracted Roglič when he was only 13. He quickly graduated to the national junior squad and, at age 16, he was in the four-man Slovenia team that took bronze medals at the junior worlds in 2006. A year later, on home slopes, they won gold.

Right after becoming a world junior champion, Roglič took part in a ski flying contest, also held at the national Nordic center in Planica, close to the borders with Italy and Austria, on its massively long and high ski jump. The 17-year-old mistimed his leap, spun in the air and landed headfirst on the icy track. Unconscious, he was airlifted to the hospital, but, miraculously, he had no serious fractures, just multiple hematomas. That wasn’t the end of Roglič’s ski-jumping career; he managed to come back to competition and had some moderate success in ski jumping’s World Cup, but by the time he was 21 he saw that he wasn’t on the level of the world’s very best jumpers and decided to switch sports.

He bought his first racing bike only six years ago and tried cycling, duathlon and triathlon. He showed his worth with an amateur team in 2012, and the following year signed with the 10-man UCI Continental team Adria Mobil, which was managed by Bogdan Fink, also the organizer of the Tour of Slovenia. In his first season, Roglič traveled to races in Italy, Austria, Slovakia and Dubai; his only top 10 was 10th place out of 17 finishers at his national road championship. He did much better in 2014, and scored his first two wins: a stage of the Tour d’Azerbaïdjan (in a two-man break with Australian Will Clarke) and the semi-classic Croatia–Slovenia (after attacking solo from a small breakaway group).

Roglič moved to another level two years ago. He placed second in the Tour of Croatia, won the Tour d’Azerbaïdjan (winning the mountain stage from a four-man break that contained Chris Horner) and then won the Tour of Slovenia (after out-climbing Team Sky’s Mikel Nieve and Adria Mobil teammate Radoslav Rogina on a mountaintop finish). “At Adria,” said team boss Fink, “we always sensed that Primož had something special.”

That something special was also sensed by scouts from Team LottoNL-Jumbo and Roglič joined the Dutch squad last year. He began his life in the WorldTour at the Tour Down Under—but crashed out with a shoulder injury on stage 5. Four weeks later, at the 2016 Algarve race, he soon showed his capabilities, taking third on the stage 2 Alto de Fóia summit finish, three seconds behind stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez and a second behind eventual race winner Geraint Thomas. (A year later, Roglič just lost the same stage to Dan Martin.)

Roglič would finish last year’s Algarve in an impressive fifth overall, only a handful of seconds behind third-place Contador and fourth-place Pinot. That impressive showing gave his team’s directors the confidence to make their Slovenian a top support rider for Steven Kruijswijk at the Giro—where Roglič’s second place to Tom Dumoulin in the opening time trial and victory in the Chianti TT were total surprises to both him and his team.

This year, whether he wins the Algarve race or not, Roglič is programmed to achieve even higher goals, and he’s likely to start his first Tour de France in July. He once said that his dream was to become the best ski jumper in the world. That dream has been transferred to cycling…and who knows where that dream will take him.