Primoz Roglic passes Gino Mader in the final meters of Paris-Nice's stage 7.

No gifts: Roglic defends his stage win over Gino Mäder

It was heart-wrenching to watch. Poor kid.

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Gino Mäder could all but smell the finish line when Primoz Roglic flew past his left side at Paris-Nice on Saturday. Mäder, at the tail end of a long breakaway, the last man standing from a group that once numbered more than a dozen, lifted his left hand in exasperation as Roglic overtook him 20 meters from the finish, taking his third win this week. It would have been Mäder’s first big pro win – his first win of any kind since a stage of the Tour of Hainan in 2018.

It was heart-wrenching to watch. Poor kid.

There are occasional, pure gifts in pro cycling, the highest-profile of which tend to be handed down by some champion (like Roglic) upon the deserving shoulders of a less prestigious rider (like Mäder). This was an opportunity, the argument goes, for Roglic to make a season-long friend in the peloton – maybe even have a whole team owe him a favor. It would have meant so much to Mäder, who was nearly in tears after the finish. Far more than it likely meant to Roglic.

Answering the ‘Hey, why’d you do that?’ question from assembled media, Roglic was succinct: “We all want to win, and you need to be the strongest to do that,” he said.

“I would like to see when someone is giving the victories to me, and then I also say thanks to the other guys,” he added.

Roglic’s argument is simple: We both worked for it, and a win isn’t just about me.

“We work hard, not just me but the whole team from the beginning of the stage,” he said. “We had some kind of control, also our guys were pulling on the climb, then I could finish the job. I think we all want to win and if you can do it, it’s always nice. You have to take what you can. It’s not for free, we work hard for it.”

Gifting or deciding not to contest stages isn’t particularly rare in cycling, though the most often scenario is one in which the rider gifted the stage has done something to earn it. It’s less of a gift than a negotiation.

Consider this scenario: a GC contender and a stage hunter are off the front together, chased by the peloton. It’s unclear whether they’ll make it. The stage hunter knows the GC rider will pull as hard as possible, trying to gain time, and can use that knowledge to simply sit in, save his legs. Doing so all but guarantees he’ll win the sprint. He also knows that’s a risk; not pulling means they both might get caught.

The GC rider knows that if he can convince the stage hunter to pull, work together, he’ll gain more time in the overall. That’s all he really cares about. So a little conversation happens: the GC rider says, “Hey if you help out, take some pulls, you can take the stage win.” It’s a gift, of sorts, but it works for everyone.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Mäder never pulled for Roglic. For Roglic to hit the brakes just before the line, allowing Mäder to take the win he so desperately wanted, a win that felt deserved for his sweat and pain and perseverance, would have been quite a gift indeed.

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