An unstoppable Rafal Majka and Tadej Pogačar took first and second place on the queen stage of the Tour of Slovenia, finishing side by side on the hellish slopes of Velika Planina.
“We had a great day,” Majka told reporters. “We did the last climb together, then Tadej said that I have to win the stage. I’m so happy with this victory and also because the team is working really, really well. I’m now also in a good position for the second place overall. It’s all very good before the Tour de France, we’re trying to stay safe and win races.”
The victory, which showed the raw dominant strength of UAE Team Emirates over the rest of the peloton, echoes the victory of Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingaard who raced hand in hand until the finish of the final stage of the Criterium from Dauphine. The message for the Tour de France is clear: whatever you can do, I can do better.
Also Read: Tadej Pogačar Issues Warning to Tour de France Rivals with Dominant Tour of Slovenia Victory
Asked by BikeNews if the stage was a statement before the Tour de France, Pogačar replied: “I guess so. Me and Rafal, we showed together that we were strong on the climbs. We are strong on the flat as a team and we ride really, really well together. So I think, yeah, we shouldn’t worry.
The day started in Laško, home to one of Slovenia’s largest breweries. But it all really started with 28 kilometers to go when Bahrain Victorious, theoretically working on behalf of Domen Novak, took the lead and rode hard at the front of the race, just enough to launch Jan Tratnik, who joined an earlier breakaway with L’homme de l’Alpecin GC Nicola Conci and Luka Mezgec from Bike Exchange.
The group managed to gain 30 seconds over a field led by the United Arab Emirates. The breakaways were stopped with 10.3 kilometers to go when the peloton reabsorbed them on the first slopes of the Category 1 climb of Velika Planina. After that, it wasn’t long before Pogačar and Majka, sensing the weakness of their disorganized rivals, seized on a lull in the pace and the disruption caused by two Caja Rural runners trying their luck. The Emirati duo attacked 5.6 kilometers from the finish. They came off easily.
Bahrain Victorious’ Domen Novak attempted to bridge the gap, but because he had no support he was left to hang on to whoever was around him and home for the better. Once again, we saw another day of confusing, if not divisive team tactics, lacking focus and wasting resources early on.
Even Jan Tratnik himself was puzzled when asked why he spent trying to find the breakaway on the flat when he would be better suited to help Novak on the final climb. When VeloNews asked him why he bridged, Tratnik laughed and said, “I don’t know… I won’t say the same because yeah, for me that wasn’t a good tactic either. i think we should [have] focused on Domen, because I saw every team looking at us and yeah, it was just a loss of altitude.
Pogačar also mentioned Bahrain when describing how the stage went.
“Yeah. Bahrain surprised again. I mean, ‘surprised,'” he joked, putting the word in quotes.
“Like every step. We just followed and then we lost two guys because they were already shooting more than 100km before. Jan Polanc was great, super strong and got me up the climb with no problem. 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 race in Bahrain. If anything becomes more obvious, it’s that UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo Visma are testing each other before the Tour de France has even started. They look at each other, rolling in a kind of smirking call and response. Whatever Jumbo Visma has to say in the Dauphiné, the United Arab Emirates have answered 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 be waiting. What we see unfolding is an arms race.