“We had a great day,” Majka told journalists. “We did last climb together, then Tadej said I should win the stage. I’m so happy for this victory and also because the team is working really, really well. I’m now also in a good position for second overall. This is all very good before the Tour de France, we try to stay safe and win races.”
The win, which showed UAE Team Emirates’ brute dominant strength over the rest of the pack echoes that of the victory of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard who rode hand-in-hand across the finish of the final stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné. The message for the Tour de France is clear: Anything you can do, I can do better.
When asked by VeloNews whether the stage was a statement ahead of the Tour de France, Pogačar replied, “I guess so, yeah. Me and Rafal, we showed together that we are strong on the climbs. We are strong on the flat as a team and we ride really, really good together. So I think, yeah, we shouldn’t be worried.”
The day began in Laško, home of one of Slovenia’s biggest breweries. But it really kicked off with 28 kilometers to go when Bahrain Victorious, theoretically working on behalf of Domen Novak, took the front and drove hard at the front of the race, just enough to launch Jan Tratnik, who bridged to an earlier breakaway along with Alpecin GC man Nicola Conci and Bike Exchange’s Luka Mezgec.
The group managed to eke out 30 seconds on a peloton being led by UAE. The escapees were shut down with 10.3 kilometers to go when the peloton reabsorbed them on the first slopes of the category one Velika Planina climb. After that, it didn’t take long before Pogačar and Majka, sensing the weakness of their disorganized rivals, seized a lull in the pace and the disruption caused by two riders from Caja Rural trying their luck. The UAE duo attacked with 5.6 kilometers to go. They went clear easily.
Domen Novak of Bahrain Victorious attempted to bridge but because he had no support, was left to latch on to whoever was around him and home for the best. Again we saw another day of Bahrain’s perplexing if not divisive team tactics, lacking focus and squandering resources early on.
Even Jan Tratnik himself was perplexed when asked why he was spent trying to track down the breakaway on the flat when he would be more suited to helping Novak on the final climb. When VeloNews asked him why he bridged, Tratnik laughed and said “I don’t know…I will not say so much because yeah, for me it was also not good tactics. I think we should [have] focused on Domen, because I saw that every team was looking on us and yeah, it was just waste of the altitude.”
Pogačar also mentioned Bahrain when describing how the stage went down.
“Yeah. Bahrain surprised again. I mean, ‘surprised,’” he joked, putting the word in air quotes.
“Like every stage. We just followed and we lost then two guys because they were pulling already more than 100km before. Jan Polanc was super, super strong and brought me into the climb with no problems. And then the last climb was just a full attack.”
The attack paid off. Majka and Pogačar appeared head and shoulders above everyone else in the race, a fact accentuated by a bizarre Bahrain run. If anything is becoming more apparent, it’s that UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo Visma are testing each other before the Tour de France even starts. They’re watching each other, riding in a kind of taunting call and response. Whatever Jumbo Visma had to say in the Dauphiné, UAE threw right back at them. Roglič will go to Tignes before the Tour and Pogačar to Monaco – he is skipping the Slovenian national championships this year. And soon, after one more day in Slovenia, we will wait. What we are seeing unfold is an arms race.