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Two races, two teams, two stage winners – and two Tour de France contenders.
Tadej Pogačar and Richard Carapaz set a benchmark in their pre-Tour de France tune-up races Thursday. Defending Tour champ Pogačar blazed to a 22km solo victory on home roads at the Tour of Slovenia, and just a few hours later, Ineos Grenadiers wildcard Carapaz made a searing move to seize control of the Tour de Suisse.
With the Tour now just over two weeks away, the two ripping rides fired a warning shot over the heads of Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas.
Pogačar and UAE-Team Emirates strangled an underwhelming start sheet on Thursday’s stage to set Pogačar on his way to the stage win and leader’s jersey.
“The team did a super good job. Matteo [Trentin] was pulling all day like a moto and Rui [Oliveira] leading into the climb super strong. And then on the climb everybody was really strong,” Pogačar said. “I’m really proud of everybody and this is a super-good sign before the Tour.”
Also read: Pogačar flips script and races at Slovenia
UAE-Team Emirates had just four WorldTour teams to contend with in Slovenia, and the team’s Tour de France-lite lineup was ruthlessly effective with Diego Ulissi, Matteo Trentin, and Rafal Majka all controlling the chasers after Pogačar went clear.
Pogacar’s 1:22 winning margin showed he’s clearly not been wasting time in his six-week layoff since winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège. And it seems his teammates have been working just as hard as it looks to shake doubts over the squad’s ability to dictate the play in the way that Ineos Grenadiers or Jumbo Visma have done in the past.
Carapaz rides toward France in an altogether different situation to Pogačar. The Ecuadorian is one of many cards in an impressive Ineos Grenadiers’ Tour deck. Racing alongside the likes of Tao Geoghegan Hart, Richie Porte, and 2018 champion Thomas, he will form part of a squad with the heft to steamroller through the peloton.
Carapaz’s late move to bridge to stage-leader Jakob Fuglsang in the final 4km of the tough mountain stage Thursday showed all the attacking swagger that has marked him out as one of the most aggressive racers in the Grenadiers’ lineup.
Thomas has been slated for the leader’s role at the Tour, and it’s unclear whether the team will revert to type with its old-school “mountain train” — a tactic well-suited to Thomas’ big engine — or opt for its all-new attacking strategy. If it proves to be the latter, it’s Carapaz that has shown the verve to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Pogačar and his unpredictable wildfire.
“We came here thinking about preparing for the Tour,” Carapaz said Thursday. “Of course, we wanted to try and win this. We know the main objective is the Tour but if we can win this it’s good.”
After riding a strong time trial on Sunday, Carapaz moves into the leader’s jersey with a 26-second buffer on Fuglsang. He could prove tough to dislodge in the race’s final two mountain stages and hilly TT.
“I’m really happy. It’s something we’ve been working on all week. We wanted to think about the general classification of course and the possibility of winning a stage was there. I did both so I’m happy,” Carapaz said.
“We were thinking about the general classification. I made my perfect attack and that was it.”
Like Carapaz, it’s hard to see Pogačar being dislodged from his race leader’s jersey in the next three days in Slovenia
“It’s my first win in Tour of Slovenia, I’ve been here three times,” he said. “I really like this stage – it’s a classic one from Tour of Slovenia and I’m really happy to take the win in front of home crowds. I’m looking forward to the next days.”
Thomas and Roglič will be watching the racing in Switzerland and Slovenia closely. Their two nearest rivals — and teammates — look to be hitting form right on time.