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Tadej Pogacar returns to cyclo-cross with a victory in Slovenia

Tadej Pogačar wins Ciklokros Ljubljana cyclo-cross race
Tadej Pogačar wins Ciklokros Ljubljana cyclo-cross race (Image credit: UAE Team Emirates courtesy of Twitter feed)

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) took victory in the inaugural Ciklokros Ljubljana cyclo-cross race on Sunday in Ljubljana, Slovenia. The two-time Tour de France winner, along with fellow Slovenian pro Luka Mezgec (Team BikeExchange), surprised journalists by announcing their participation a few days before the race. 

The early lead of the Slovenian Cup cyclo-cross race was held by Matvež Govekar of Tirol KTM, followed by Mezgec. On lap six of eight, Pogačar overtook Mezgec and pulled out a 15-second lead that held to the finish line. Govekar hung in there and rounded out the podium 37 seconds behind. 

While Pogačar’s cyclo-cross skills may surprise some, the talents of the 23-year-old are familiar in Slovenia, where he was national champion in 2019. However since then, he has focused more on road racing. The race Sunday in Ljubljana was a low-key affair, with the public banned due to coronavirus measures, on a new 2.3km course featuring wooded half-cambers and a full staircase element.

Pogačar’s appearance as a competitor aimed to draw attention to the sport which has a smaller following in Slovenia than road and track cycling, as well as to offer his support to the competitors from his youth and juniors’ team Pogi Team Generali. 

In addition to his own victory, Pogačar’s youngsters fared well at Ciklokros Ljubljana, taking podium places in the Boys B and C Categories. The up-and-coming junior Natan Gregorčič came second in the U17 category. 

The track is part of a larger effort on the part of KD Rog, the parent organization of Pogi Team Generali and UCI Continental Team Ljubljana Gusto Santic, to expand the sport of cycling in the city of Ljubljana. The club’s new president, UAE Team Emirates Sports Director Andrej Hauptman, who came up in the club himself, told CyclingNews over the telephone that those plans included a new cycling center and an under-23 team. 

Despite the spectator ban today, video from social media showed Pogačar leaping onto to his bike and shouldering it up the stairs with competence. Despite slipping on a few muddy corners and bloodying his nose, he crossed the finish with a familiar winning smile. 

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Kate Wagner is a Chicago-based writer and critic. Her work on cycling can be found in various publications including Procycling. Her newsletter covers cycling in an unconventional fashion, featuring essays, short stories, multimedia works and illustration.