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LA ROCHELLE, France (VN) — Slovenia has taken over the Tour de France.
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Roglič barnstormed into the yellow jersey Sunday, using time bonuses he’s picked up along the way to carve up a promising 21-second gap to Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) and become the first Slovenian to wear yellow.
Pogačar lit up the Pyrénées, going on the attack both days to fracture the bunch and upturn the control Jumbo-Visma is trying to impose on the race.
Everyone in the peloton agrees the Slovenian pair is in control of the race right now.
“Roglič and Pogačar are the strongest right now,” said Bahrain-McLaren’s Mikel Landa. “It’s almost impossible to follow Pogačar’s wheel. He is so explosive.”
The pair represent the present and future of Tour de France racing, as well as the high-water mark for Slovenian racing. The former Eastern Bloc country has produced a steady flow of pros, but none have ever come as high or far as these two.
“We are in a good situation now,” Roglič said in trademark, understated style. “It’s a long way to Paris still, so we have to keep fighting for every second.”
Roglič, as everyone already knows, came from a ski-jumping background, while Pogačar has been a racing protégé since he was a teenager. A winner of the 2018 Tour de l’Avenir, Pogačar is already knocking on the door of an overall podium in his Tour debut in just his second professional season.
The pair is close. Roglič is a mentor and hero of sorts for Pogačar, helping to nurture the younger pro’s early cycling career.
The pair lit up the Vuelta a España last year, with Roglič roaring to a dominant victory, and Pogačar winning three stages en route to third overall. Roglič even helped Pogačar win one of the stages in northern Spain, easing off the gas to allow his younger compatriot to take the victory.
The story is repeating itself in this Tour.
Slovenians strongest at Tour
“The Slovenians are the strongest right now,” said Astana’s Miguel Ángel López. “We have four Colombians in the top 10, but those two are very strong coming out of the Pyrénées. It won’t be easy to get past them.”
Roglič looks to be in the same dominance he demonstrated in last year’s Vuelta, backed by an even stronger Jumbo-Visma team.
And Pogačar is fully unleashed, attacking ferociously in the Pyrénées, capped by winning a stage Sunday in Laruns.
The friends will be foes for the next two weeks.
“The most dangerous rivals now are Bernal and Pogačar,” Roglič said. “We do want them to get closer. It won’t be easy, huh, they are both very strong.”
Roglič clearly has Pogačar on his radar. When his younger compatriot attacked on the Col de Peyresourde on Saturday, Roglič was the first of the GC rivals to mark him.
On Sunday, the pair sparred at the top of the Marie-Blanque for the mountaintop time bonus sprint, with Pogačar almost crashing when he clipped wheels with Roglič.
UAE-Emirates sport director Allan Peiper is charged with guiding the young Pogačar in the sometimes turbulent waters of the Tour. He told Pogačar that the Tour is “not kindergarten” and that Roglič will not be his friend on the road during the remaining two weeks of the Tour.
Pogačar seems to have gotten the message.
“It’s racing. Of course, we respect each other,” Pogačar said. “When it’s racing full gas, no one will race for anyone. We are great friends. In the race, it’s competition. We race for our teams, and everyone wants to win.”
Pogačar stopped short of saying his objective is outright victory. With his losses in the crosswinds Friday, he’s still trying to make up time.
Right now, the target is the podium. At a certain point, Pogačar will have to go through Roglič to get to Paris if he aspires for more.