Matej Mohorič and the difficulty of repeating 2021 success, meanwhile residual suspicion of Bahrain-Victorious lingers

A remarkable season for Mohorič and Bahrain-Victorious has provided ample reason to celebrate but questions remain unanswered

Matej Mohorič
(Image credit: Getty)

"I will try and answer your questions about everything you want to know," Matej Mohorič says, smiling down the camera lens, once again beamed into the drab offices and home studies of cycling journalists looking for a crumb of a news story on a Sunday afternoon in December.

Luckily, the story of Matej Mohorič's 2021 season is overflowing with all the requisite parts of a good tale. Obstacles, desire, conflict, climax, plot and intrigue.

The year started with an outfoxing by Thomas De Gendt on the run-in to Barcelona during the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, before flirtation with the top 10 at esteemed meetings such as Milan-Sanremo, the Amstel Gold and Liège, before the spectacularly worrying head-over-heels tumble at the Giro d'Italia.

With the Slovenian national champion's jersey on his back, Mohorič arrived at the Tour de France as part of a Bahrain-Victorious squad brimming with confidence. The revelation of Damiano Caruso at the Italian Grand Tour pointed to the squad living up to their name, while Mark Padun's back-to-back stage wins at the Critérium du Dauphiné were met with raised eyebrows.

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On stage seven Mohorič sealed a solo victory, then followed up by Dylan Teuns a day later before Sonny Colbrelli dispensed with the shackles that usually afflict fast men forced to go uphill, surviving from the breakaway to finish third on the summit finish at Tignes.

Mohorič would take Bahrain's third win of the race on stage 19, his finish line celebration one that will live long in the memory, putting his finger to his lips, trying to quiet the storm surrounding a drugs search of his team hotel. The gesture, intended or not, stoked memories of Lance Armstrong's infamous mouth-zipping.

But before getting down and dirty in the mud, let's deal with the less scurrilous matters.

Matej Mohorič

(Image credit: Getty)

"My race programme for the next season is more or less drafted," Mohorič says. It's not 100 per cent, but after starting at stage races in Spain and the opening weekend in Belgium, the 27-year-old will aim for glory in Italy at Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-Sanremo. 

Then come the Belgian Classics, which will end with Liège, before another build-up for the Tour de France. After that, the BinckBank Tour (where he finished second overall this year) and the Canadian one-day races could provide a third runway to peaking in time for the World Championships in Wollongong.

"It’s a hard call because I can do well in both one-day races and short stage races," Mohorič says of how his racing guile means choosing specific targets is probably the most difficult task facing him at the moment.

"It’s hard to focus on one single goal. We will try to do it how we always have, try and identify some of the goals for the season and to be as good as we can on that day."

One result of Mohorič successfully achieving his identified goals means his profile has risen enough to put his name to a foundation back in Slovenia. This isn't the start of his charitable efforts but now his name carries the weight to attract more lucrative sponsors, providing financial assistance to homegrown juniors in a pro rider market that is increasingly skewed towards WorldTour squads scooping up young prospects.

Another non-racing aspect of the cause is focused on family participation in events, while also attempting to reverse the trend of a decreasing number of races for the youngest age groups to get their start in cycling.

"I think it was actually probably ever so slightly better in my times because the investment was financially easier," Mohorič says of turning pro as a Slovenian. "It didn't require as much money as it does now. We will try to help them now and they will have the best support they need - we hope to help them grow. 

"It’s definitely changed but society, in general, has changed, it’s become a lot more structured and you need to work much more specifically to turn professional. I already was, when I was 18, but now it’s more normal. It’s become very common because the knowledge is more easily accessible and everyone is training more properly and sooner. Tadej [Pogačar] won the Tour at 21, so everyone is getting stronger."

Currently attending a team training camp, Mohorič says the atmosphere is as you'd expect after the team's most successful year to date.

"We've come here motivated, everyone is confident that what we are doing is good, I think we’re even more focused on details. I must say I enjoy it a lot, I'm looking forward to the next season and have identified a lot of things that can be improved that we’re already working on and these months are the only time when you can work on them.

"I will focus on getting to the Tour in the best possible condition to try and win a stage again," he promises. "I think we’ll go [to the Tour] with a similar goal and plan to last season, not try to change it too much.

"It will be very hard to repeat [our success] but it’s not impossible," he continues. "Of course, I also made some mistakes and there were many second places for me and the team so we will try and do better than that."

Matej Mohorič with team-mates Sonny Colbrelli and Wout Poels at the recent Beking Gala in Monte Carlo

Matej Mohorič with team-mates Sonny Colbrelli and Wout Poels at the recent Beking Gala in Monte Carlo

(Image credit: Getty)

While the Tour was a fantastic success for the team, it's unlikely the doubt that lingers following the police raid at that race will subside anytime soon.

As the Zoom call is winding down, Mohorič, who is at ease and articulate throughout, says: "We will wait to see if there are any more questions, if not we will see you at the race."

With reporters instructed to type out questions in the chat rather than the usual taking it in turns to pop up on-screen, disheveled in contrast to the preened athletes they are talking to.

"Matej, nobody from the team management is doing video interviews today, so I ask you this question," asks one reporter.

"The team was searched by the police during the Tour de France and you were involved. Is there any news on the investigation?"

"Ok, no more questions, we will see you at the races, bye, thank you!" Mohorič says. Maybe he didn't see the question pop up (and we've asked the team for clarification) so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Bahrain-Victorious say there is no update regarding the investigation, which means this will likely drag on.

As for the medical research paper that revealed three unnamed riders were found to have a muscle relaxant in their system at a major "three-week cyclist race in France", Bahrain-Victorious released a statement at the time saying they had not officially or unofficially been notified about any findings related to tizanidine or other substances. The team has referred back to this statement on the matter.

As well as being quite the bike racer, Mohorič is intelligent, speaks deeply and at length. At the Tour, he was defiant in the wake of the search, saying he has nothing to hide and was made to feel like a criminal.

Undoubtedly, the riders will hope management step up and deal with this episode better than they have done so far, and let the riders get on with racing their bikes. The levelling up that began with Rod Ellingworth in raising the team to the standard of the best in the peloton is still a work in progress.

One thing is for sure, the story isn't over just yet, and the genre and storyline remain undefined. 

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