Is the elite men’s peloton entering the “Era of the Slovenians”?
When it comes to stage races, it sure seems like it.
Over the weekend, Roglič beat back Pogačar in a thriller in the Itzulia Basque Country to win what most consider cycling’s hardest weeklong stage race that pitted them against each other for the first time since the thrilling 2020 Tour de France.
Also read: No gifts and why Primož Roglič raced to win
That rematch in the Basque Country reminded everyone how the Slovenians are slowly putting a stranglehold on every stage race they start.
Just consider the following numbers that demonstrate how much the pair is smothering the competition:
Since the 2018 Itzulia, Roglič is hitting an 86-percent success rate at winning or finishing on the podium of every stage race he starts. Pogačar is hitting a near 70-percent success rate of wins or podiums in stage racing since turning pro in 2019.
The numbers don’t lie.
Between the two of them, elite men’s professional racing is entering a new era of unseen dominance.
The steady rise of Primož Roglič
Since 2018, Roglič has emerged as an unstoppable force in stage races.
Roglič joined the WorldTour in 2016, and it took the former ski jumper a few years to find his feet. He won two GC races before joining Jumbo-Visma — Azerbaijan and Slovenia both in 2015 — and the Volta ao Algarve in 2017.
It was with victory at the 2018 Itzulia that he’s opened up an amazing run.
Since then, the 31-year-old Roglic won 10 of 15 stage races he started. There have been three more podiums along the way, including the crushing Tour loss to Pogačar last year.
That means only twice in the past 15 stage races he’s started that he’s not won or finished on the podium. Those two? He was fourth in the 2018 Tour, and 15th at Paris-Nice last month when he suffered a pair of crashes on the final day while leading.
It’s obvious to everyone in the peloton that Roglič is the rider to beat every time he lines up. He can time trial, he can climb, and he was one of the deepest and best teams backing him up.
Who can beat him? When it comes to stage races, not very many.
The stunning arrival of Tadej Pogačar
Now consider his younger and even more flamboyant compatriot.
Since joining the WorldTour in 2019, Pogačar has been on a Merckxian-like tear across his calendar.
Since his WorldTour debut in 13th at the 2019 Tour Down Under, the 22-year-old Pogačar hasn’t finished worst than sixth overall in 12 subsequent stage races.
Pogačar won six of 13 stage races he’s started since turning pro and finished three more times on the podium.
Like Roglič, Pogačar can climb and time trial with the best, and UAE-Team Emirates is getting stronger by the year. With a new, multi-year contract backing him up, Pogačar has perhaps a decade ahead of him of potential success.
Odds are even against each other
So far, they haven’t crossed swords very often, but the sparks have flown each time they have.
In their direct matchups, Roglič won at the 2019 Vuelta and Saturday in the Basque Country, while Pogačar was fourth at the Critérium du Dauphiné and Roglič did not finish. And then there was the unforgettable 2020 Tour.
The upshot? Chances are very high that one of them will win if either is at the start line.
So far, they seem to push each other on. At the 2019 Vuelta, Roglič was the established star and Pogačar the eager upstart. Pogačar has quickly proven he’s Roglič’s equal, and now there is no quarter.
So far, the pair has handled the subsequent pressure and stress with cool resilience. It’s rare when they crack, and if they do, they have an uncanny ability to bounce right back even stronger.
In fact, since 2019, the pair fell short of victory in only five races in which at least one of them started: Pogačar was 13th behind Daryl Impey in the 2019 TDU, and Roglič was third to Richard Carapaz at the 2019 Giro. Pogačar was second to Adam Yates in the COVID-shortened 2020 UAE Tour. Dani Martínez won the 2020 Dauphiné with Pogačar fourth and Roglič a DNF, and Max Schachmann won Paris-Nice last month after Roglič crashed twice on the final stage while in yellow to finish 15th.
How long will it last?
If they stay healthy and their respective teams continue to bolster the frontline support, there’s little to indicate their growing dominance will end any time soon.
Since the 1960s, one singular champion or team has marked their generation, from Anquetil to Merckx, and Hinault to Indurain. Count him or not, Armstrong was next, followed by Team Sky/Ineos Grenadiers.
So far, Roglič and Pogačar only have one yellow jersey between them. This summer could prove pivotal. If one of them wins, it could usher in a new era of domination shared by two riders on two different teams.
Even the mighty Ineos Grenadiers are having trouble beating these two.
If that doesn’t mean we’re in a new era, I don’t know what does.
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