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What do you say to someone who just lost the Tour de France? Do you pat him on the back, tell him there’s always next year? I think you probably sit in silence, next to his silence, in a soundless sort of mourning.
There is a photo of Laurent Fignon sitting in the back of a sedan in 1989, his head leaning back on the velour, eyes closed, Champs Élysées out the window. I’m not sure if it was taken before or after the race, but it doesn’t really matter, because whether or not he knows, we do. Those eight seconds.
That photo always struck me for its quiet, serene brutality, and the most brutal aspect of it is the yellow skinsuit on his shoulders, three quarters unzipped. He’s sitting there in clothing emblematic of what he lost. That skinsuit isn’t his anymore. Greg LeMond ripped it off him. At some point, he’ll go inside a small room, take it off for the last time, throw it in a corner, and have to walk back out into the world without it.
Sometimes a Tour de France ends and there aren’t really any losers, just those who failed to win. The distinction is important. These are the worst sort of Tours de France. They are the boring Tours. The Tours when the winner feels inevitable, and proves to be so.
This Tour de France was not one of those.
Primoz Roglic likely knew, at least 10 minutes from the end of the stage, and possibly more, that the yellow skinsuit on his shoulders was not his anymore, and would not be his tomorrow.
After the finish, he sat down on the pavement, surrounded by teammates unsure what to say or do. Tom Dumoulin was there, and Wout van Aert in a mask. Cameras rushed into his face. He sat and stared, silent.
In sport, as in everything, the magnitude of a victory sits in balance with the weight of a loss. And so it was for Primoz Roglic, who through his pain made space for the stunning victory of his younger compatriot, and the celebration that came with it. Neither would be as beautiful, or dreadful, without the other.
After a few minutes, Roglic stood up and walked to the interview zone, where Tadej Pogacar was still reeling with the shock of his own talent. The two Slovenians embraced, briefly, Roglic still in yellow and Pogacar still in white. They separated. Pogacar went back to interviews. Roglic went to his team bus, took his yellow skinsuit off, stashed it somewhere, and emerged back into the world without it.