Majka downplays title defence at Tour de Slovenie

Cavendish, Kittel, Roglič and Uran on hand to fine tune form ahead of Tour de France

An additional day of racing for the Tour de Slovenie in 2018 has also attracted a larger field of riders who are using the five-day 2.1 race as their final build up for the Tour de France.

When the race rolls out of Lendava on Wednesday for the 159km opening stage, Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) will be on hand to defend his 2017 title, along with fellow GC contenders Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), the 2015 champion and recent winner of the Tour de Romandie, and 2017 Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac), who will be making his first appearance in Slovenia.

Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data) and Marcel Kittell (Katusha-Alpecin) headline the riders vying for the early sprint finishes and the green jersey.

"I expect a good race, just like last year," Majka said in a release from the race organisers. "We came to Slovenia from a training camp in Sierra Nevada.

"We have a strong team here, so do others, which is good for a race," Majka said. "I think it's a good thing that organizers added an additional day. This means one more day of racing and one day less of training."

The race begins with the 159km trek that starts in Lendava and finishes in Murska Sobota after a short venture into Hungary. The flat profile includes three intermediate sprints and no KOMs, which will have the fast men off to an early start. A similar profile on stage 2, with just one category 3 climb 50km from the finish, looks like another day for the sprinters.

"This year the field is even stronger than last year," said Cavendish, who will return to Slovenia for a third time. "The line-up for the sprints is great, which is perfect for this part of the year.

"We'll have two opportunities and I'll aim for a green jersey," Cavendish said. "After that, the GC contenders will have their race and we'll enjoy the countryside. Slovenia is a beautiful country. I'm happy to be back."

Stages 3 and 4 look suited to the climbers and GC contenders, while the final 21.6km time trial will provide the final chance to affect the overall result.

At the pre-race press conference on Tuesday, Majka downplayed his own aspirations to defend last year's overall win.

"I want to do good on the race, but it doesn't matter if I win the race or not," he said. "I want to have a good training and do something special with [teammate] Davide Formolo. It will be harder to win this year. Roglic is a favourite and we also have a time trial on the end."

Roglic, meanwhile, acknowledged the morale boost he takes from the rare opportunity to race at home.

"It's nice to race on home roads, in front of home fans," he said. "Usually they only see me on screens, now they can see me live out there on the roads. It's crazy to think that the race will pass my hometown, and I expect a lot of friends and neighbors there to support me.

"Many consider me as a favourite, but we will all start at zero," he said. "I don't have any advantage. We'll all battle until the last stage. Everyone at the starting line has the same chance. We can for sure expect a great fight and the best man will win."

Uran is the wildcard in the bunch, but the Colombian, who hasn't competed since Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the end of April, also downplayed his overall goals.

"This is my first tour in Slovenia, and for me good preparations for the Tour," he said. "I had to choose among the races, and I chose to come here rather than Dauphiné. My first goal is to have good preparations for Tour de France. It will be difficult to win with Primoz Roglic on the start."

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