Rigoberto Uran, the runner-up in last year's Tour de France, has been flying under the radar again this season, compared with his fellow contenders, but the Colombian's victory in Friday's Tour of Slovenia stage in an uphill sprint ahead of Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) and Primoz Roglic (LottoNl-Jumbo) was a huge confidence boost for him and his EF Education First-Drapac squad.
Roglic began the attack on the Celjski Grad climb, reeling in late attacker Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), but was caught as Uran and Impey sprinted past in the final 300m. The victory by Uran showed that his extended training camp at altitude in his home country paid off.
"My feeling today was really, really good," Uran said in a team press release. "For me, the most important is the Tour de France. This race is preparation for the most important goal. We knew the final would be good for me because it's up and the last two kilometers is really hard, so the idea for this stage was to win."
Uran patiently waited as Roglic went on the offensive over the last climb with 15km to go, but Mohoric used his daredevil descending to take the lead. Roglic went again to bring his compatriot back, but there would be no home victory for the Slovenians. Uran had done his homework, directeur sportif Ken Vanmarcke said.
"On the computer, I looked at the long climb for the necessary details," Vanmarcke said. "The final four kilometers, me and Rigo did yesterday evening in the car. He knew exactly what to expect and how to finish it off."
Impey opened up the sprint with 200m to go, and Uran was quick to jump on his wheel and then power past to take the win and race lead.
"I felt good, and I said 'ok, wait for the sprint, only the sprint.' I know Roglic is here and that he'd like the final, too, but for me it's about the preparation, and I need to wait for the sprint to see what I could do there.
"The sprint was not easy," said Uran. "It was hard. Every sprint is really, really hard. Maybe my face doesn't show it, but the legs feel it. The victory here is really nice for me and for the team. Before the Tour, it's important to show the condition to build the confidence."
Uran now leads the Tour of Slovenia by four seconds over Impey, with Roglic third at 10 seconds. Saturday holds another testing finale, with a category 2 climb cresting 20km before the finish, and then a 21.6km flat individual time trial on Sunday could swing the balance back in favour of Roglic.
Whatever the outcome, team CEO Jonathan Vaughters was pleased with the result for Uran. "Today's win is good for everyone's confidence," Vaughters said. "It shows that Rigo has done his homework for the Tour. With Rigo, you just have to trust that he knows what he's doing."