When Matej Mohoric (UAE Team Emirates) claimed his Vuelta a Espana stage win on Friday, there was an odd sense that such a prestigious victory had been long in the making - which is strange, given he is only 22.
"It's been a very long time since my last big win, so it feels great to get a victory again," Mohoric said after taking out stage 7 of the Vuelta from the day's breakaway.
Mohoric captured the win by playing fully to his strengths, making it into a day-long break of 14, powering away over the top of the Alto del Castillo in Cuenca, then keeping his closest pursuers - Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Jose Joaquin Rojas (Movistar) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) - at 10 to 15 seconds. A narrow advantage, but enough to ensure he crossed the line alone.
"I'm not a good sprinter, so I knew I had to get away before the descent and the finish," Mohoric said. "I was in the break when [Alexey] Lutsenko (Astana Pro Team) won [on stage 5 at the Santa Lucia summit finish - ed.] and I felt very good, even if such a steep final wasn't suited to my characteristics, I still got fourth.
"I'm a pretty good descender and I needed to get away over the downhill, so that's when I attacked," he said.
The Slovenian's first WorldTour victory was taken much in the manner he won the U23 world championships at an impressively young age of 18 in Florence back in 2013. That accomplishment came one year after Mohoric won the Junior world championships in Valkenberg in 2012, beating Australia's Caleb Ewan.
Whilst Ewan is now a fully established sprinter, Mohoric has been been quietly learning his trade as a professional, rather than continue this staggeringly fast upwards progress. He joined Cannondale-Garmin in 2014, then switched to Lampre in 2016 and stuck with the squad when it morphed into UAE Team Emirates. Next year, having completed two Giro d'Italias, Mohoric will move onto Bahrain-Merida.
In all that time, there have been comparatively few moments when he's actually made a major impact on racing, with his only other victory a stage win in the Tour of Hainan last year.
He is still so young that this September he could, technically, still participate in the race that placed him into the limelight, the U23 world championships. But even before the Worlds, Mohoric finally has taken the big step so long expected of him and claimed his first Grand Tour stage in the Vuelta, in which he's also - for the record - become just the second Slovenian, after Borut Bozic in 2009, to capture a victory.
When the inevitable question came up of why he had not won bigger races before as a pro, Mohoric pointed out that he is still only 22.
"I'm developing slowly and steadily," he said. "I've reached a level where I can now get some good results, but I feel the best is still to come. I believe that one day I could be a contender, not just for stages but also for GC. And I'll be looking at time trials, too, so maybe I'll get some good results there, too."
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