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Tour of Slovenia: Majka wins stage 1 as Pogacar shines

Rafal Majka won stage 1 of the Tour of Slovenia Postojna after his teammate Tadej Pogačar sparked the day’s decisive move with an attack on the first climb of the race with 59km still remaining.

The UAE Team Emirates pair had Domen Novak (Bahrain Victorious) for company all the way to the finish in Postojna, and they eventually outmanoeuvred him by attacking in turn in the final two kilometres, with Majka slipping clear to win by two seconds.

Pogačar was back in competition for the first time in eight weeks, and he showed few signs of rustiness on home roads. The two-time Tour de France winner didn’t wait long to test his condition after his recent spell of altitude training at Livigno, laying down a marker on the first classified ascent of Zadlog.

Bahrain Victorious had performed the pace-making on the approach to the climb and they succeeded in splintering the peloton into shards once the gradient began to bite. There was little prospect, however, that Pogačar would be discommoded by Jan Tratnik’s tempo.

As if to prove the point, a seated Pogačar eased past his fellow countryman and then climbed casually from the saddle as he pulled clear. Only Majka, Novak and Sean Bennett (China Glory) could track his initial move with 59km to go, though the American would drop back to the chasers as they approached the summit of the day’s first climb.

Novak was understandably reluctant to add much momentum to the UAE Team Emirates tandem, not least because his teammate Matej Mohorič was gamely giving chase behind after linking up with Bennett on the following ascent of Strmec.

Mohorič and Bennett combined to maintain a deficit of 45 seconds over the climb of Strmec before the Slovenian decided to press on alone in the valley that followed. Although Mohorič briefly clawed his way back to within half a minute of Pogačar, Majka and Novak immediately after his acceleration, his pursuit lost its impetus once the road began to climb again, and he eventually relented and dropped back to the sizeable chasing group, which was now being led by Eolo-Kometa.

Out ahead, meanwhile, Pogačar continued to run through the scales on the final, 7km ascent of Razdrto, where his long stints on the front suggested that he was perhaps preparing to tee up his teammate Majka for stage victory rather than seek the honours for himself.

In any case, the kilometres off the front doubled as preparation for the Tour and, of course, as a show of strength for his watching rivals. The field at the Tour of Slovenia has nothing like the depth of that faced by his compatriot Primoz Roglič at the Critérium du Dauphiné last week, but Pogačar’s almost nonchalant long-range attack carried a message nonetheless.

On the climb of Razdrto, the break’s lead yawned out beyond 1:20, although their buffer would contract on the 18km plateau to the finish as the chasers organised themselves behind and Pogačar and Majka sized up their opportunities to outmanoeuvre Novak.

The 26-year-old Novak caught the eye at the Giro d’Italia, where he proved a most reliable gregario for Mikel Landa before placing second atop the Marmolada. He was able to track Pogačar’s initial attack with 2.3km remaining here, but he couldn’t immediately respond when Majka launched his winning move 900 metres later.

Pogačar sat like a dead weight on Novak’s wheel from there on, while Majka gratefully scooped up the opportunity, winning the stage by two seconds from Novak to take the first yellow jersey of the race.

The defending champion Pogačar crossed the line in third with his arms aloft, while Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) beat Luka Mezgec (BikeExchange-Jayco) in the sprint for fourth place, 48 seconds down on Majka.

In the overall standings, Majka carries a lead of six seconds over Novak and eight over Pogačar into stage 2, while Mohorič and the rest of men in the second group are already 58 seconds back.

Indeed, the ferocity of Pogačar’s attack has already brought considerable definition to the overall standings. While Mohorič’s 18-strong chasing group limited their losses to within a minute, nobody else finished within six minutes of the leading trio.

The peloton knows, too, that Pogačar will have further opportunities to run through his repertoire in the days ahead, most notably on stage 3 to Celje, where he won a year ago, and on the following day’s tough summit finish atop Velika Planina.

 

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