Welcome back, Tadej Pogačar. The usual, is it?
UAE Team Emirates' precocious Slovenian had been away from racing for two months, his last race being Flèche Wallonne back in April. With just over a fortnight to go until the Tour de France, the 23-year-old was finally back in action at his home race, the Tour of Slovenia, on Wednesday. It was as if he had never been away.
He attacked on the climb of Zadlog with 59km to go, dragging his teammate Rafał Majka and Domen Novak of Bahrain-Victorious with him. After the initial surge had established the breakaway, the trio worked together well to keep the peloton at bay.
Pogačar then dovetailed his attacks late on with Majka to ensure that Novak was outmanoeuvred, which led to the latter's stage win, one which was celebrated heartily by the former as he crossed the line.
Along with the stage win, the attack means Pogačar only elevated his status as favourite for the five-stage race, as with bonuses he now has 50 seconds over his rivals in the peloton. He can just bend a race at whim.
His escape brought back memories of his stunning solo victory at Strade Bianche earlier this year, where he went away with 50km of the race still to come.
As well as an excellent result for him and his team at the race, it was also a reminder for those looking to unseat him at the Tour de France of his form; it never seems to go away.
While Jumbo-Visma impressed at the Critérium du Dauphiné last week, with three stage wins and first and second overall, the state of Pogačar was unknown. While the field at the Tour of Slovenia is hardly that of the Tour, the way he forced the race apart, and then helped drive the winning move to the finish on day one, proves that he has good legs.
He turned down the opportunity to race at the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse, and instead decided to ride on his home roads, in front of his home fans, as he did last year. It clearly worked then, so why not now?
Pogačar has, in fact, spent eight full weeks away from racing, with a slightly extended break due to him missing Liège-Bastogne-Liège. However, it is not like he has had an empty calendar, winning at the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche, and Tirreno-Adriatico, before he targeted the Classics. It is also believed that the Vuelta a España is on his schedule, which he might be fresher for now.
There are tougher tests to come this week in Slovenia, and next month in France, but Pogačar looks like he will keep powering on.
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