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Tour de France

Tadej Pogačar returns to racing in Slovenia as Tour de France looms on the horizon

'Jumbo showed that they are really strong. Jonas and Primož they went really, really strong on the climbs. For sure it was some sort of statement, some reference,' says Tour de France favorite.

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At the start of the 2022 Tour of Slovenia in the town of Nova Gorica near the Italian border, the atmosphere is relaxed, as are the Tour’s two headliners, Tour de France frontrunner and two-time champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Milan-San Remo winner Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious). For the rest of the cycling world, however, even now, the eyes are not so much on the “Fight for Green” but the fight for yellow at the Tour de France.

“I’ve been off for the last two months,” Pogačar told reporters. “But I’m happy to be racing again in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.”

Also read: What to expect from Tadej Pogačar at Tour de France? Tune in to Tour of Slovenia this week

The race is not just a preparation for the Tour, however, Pogačar urges. It is special as his home race, this edition especially so as it travels through his hometown of Komenda, about which he said, “I’m sure that when I will go through Komenda I will get shivers. And if I have the time or if I’m not going too fast, I may, you know, stop a while and just go and greet [my family] and salute them while I’m passing…[the Tour of Slovenia] is only five days. I don’t need seven days or nine days of racing before the Tour. I focused on my training to do my home race, to have fun here and go relax before the Tour. But for sure in the future also Dauphine or Swiss will come on my calendar.”

Pogačar has also been keeping his eye on his rivals Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič at Jumbo Visma, who recently pulled off a 1-2 in GC in the Criterium du Dauphine, with Wout van Aert taking control of the green jersey as well, perhaps hinting at the Dutch team’s strategy ahead of its biggest goal of the year. However, Pogačar did not seem too fazed.

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“Jumbo showed that they are really strong,” said Pogačar. “Jonas and Primož they went really, really strong on the climbs. For sure it was some sort of statement, some reference. But I’m not surprised. It’s what’s expected. For sure they will watch also Tour of Slovenia and their competitors here. But,” he adds, “the Tour [de France] is a different story completely.”

For Matej Mohorič, the race is also quite important. He’s coming with a Bahrain Victorious squad featuring all of that team’s Slovenian players including Jan Tratnik, Domen Novak, and the newest member Matevž Govekar, an upcoming sprinter with a bit of a Colbrelli-esque punch.

“Matevž is here to know the team and to try to fit into the team,” said Mohorič. “He’s a fast rider. So we will see if he might get an opportunity to do a sprint one day. And for the rest of us, we will just try to work together and do a good race. I would go for the stages, maybe for the GC. We also have Doman Novak who’s coming with good legs from the Giro. He might also try to go for GC. And first and foremost, for me personally, I would like to use this race to prepare myself for the Tour, to get race fit and to see what we can do at the Tour afterwards.”

Pogačar’s main goal is a GC win, thus repeating his success from the last two years. He’s brought quite a hefty team in order to do so. The UAE line-up features the likes of sprinter Pascal Ackermann, climbers Rafal Majka and Mikel Bjerg, and reliable domestique and fellow Slovenian Jan Polanc.

“The UAE team is very strong and it wants to be and stay on the top of all the races,” Pogačar said. “In three weeks’ time we will go to the Tour de France and that is the most important event. But this is an exceptional opportunity to prepare for the Tour de France…and our goal is to win.”