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Tadej Pogacar begins Tour de France countdown at Tour of Slovenia

Liege - Bastogne - Liege 2021 - 107th Edition - Liege - Liege 259,1 km - 25/04/2021 - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - Marc Hirschi (SUI - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Vincent Kalut/PN/BettiniPhoto©2021
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at Liège-Bastogne-Liège (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) returns to competition for the first time since winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège when he lines up for the opening stage of the Tour of Slovenia on Wednesday. The five-day event is set to be Pogačar’s final stage race before he defends his Tour de France title later this month.

“For myself and my team, this is a preparation race before the start of the Tour. I was always close to the podium on Tour of Slovenia, now I definitely want to win. We’ll see how strong my legs will be,” Pogačar said in a press conference on the eve of the race.

The Slovenian has raced in his home tour on three previous occasions, placing 5th overall in 2017 and then 4th overall in both 2018 and 2019.

The Tour of Slovenia was cancelled last year to the coronavirus pandemic, and Pogačar rode a scaled-back Critérium du Dauphiné in preparation for the Tour during the condensed and revised season.

He preferred to complete his build-up to this year’s race on home roads rather than line up in France in June. Pogačar spent three weeks training at altitude at Sestriere in May and early June, and he is expected to line out in the Slovenian championships road race and time trial after his national tour.

“After my last race I had a time to rest and do a lot of promotional obligations, then we went to inspect the Tour route and went on the altitude camp,” Pogačar said.

“Critérium du Dauphiné was our first choice, with Tour of Slovenia as a solid second option. About two months ago we decided in favor of Slovenia, which gave us more time for other obligations. I also enjoy racing here.”

Pogačar’s fellow countryman and GC rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) is not at the Tour of Slovenia. Like Pogačar, he has not raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège, but he has opted not to compete at all ahead of the Tour, preferring instead to train at altitude at Sierra Nevada and Tignes.

Pogačar is joined in the UAE Team Emirates line-up in Slovenia by two-time winner Diego Ulissi, as well as Rafał Majka and Matteo Trentin.

Matej Mohorič, who suffered a dramatic crash at the Giro d’Italia on stage 9, makes his return to action at the Tour of Slovenia for Bahrain Victorious. The Slovenian is also due to the ride the Tour de France.

“Luckily, I wasn’t injured in that Giro crash, but we did change the original plan to go to France straight from Italy. After I left Giro early, we had more time and we decided to do last preparations on Tour of Slovenia,” said Mohorič.

“Tadej is defending Tour de France champion, but we’re not in France. Of course he’s favorite #1 and I believe he wants to win really hard, but same goes for another 150 cyclists. We will for sure make the effort to make it hard for him. It’s an open race.”