Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) ran through the scales one more time at the Tour of Slovenia to win the final stage in Novo Mesto ahead of Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious) and seal final overall victory.
The field did not have the same depth as the Critérium du Dauphiné or Tour de Suisse, of course, but there seems little doubt about the two-time Tour de France champion’s readiness for his latest title defence after this latest feat of strength.
The final stage of the Tour of Slovenia seemed to lend itself to a group finish, but for most, the short, stiff climb of Trska Gora in the finale morphed from a tricky obstacle to an insurmountable hurdle once Pogačar hit the front and forced the pace.
The peloton was quickly scattered along the hillside, with only Mohorič able to live with the Pogačar’s forcing on the climb. They were joined over the other side by Pogačar’s teammate Rafal Majka (UAE Team Emirates), and there was little prospect that this high-octane trio would be caught by the chasers in the final 10km.
Majka led out the three-up sprint, while Pogačar perched on Mohorič’s wheel in the finishing straight. When Mohorič accelerated and opened a small gap, one briefly wondered if Pogačar was minded to cede victory to his fellow countryman, but that theory was quickly dispelled as the yellow jersey rose decisively from the saddle.
Pogačar overhauled Mohorič at the last to notch up his second stage win of the week and the 40th victory of his career. For the third time in five stages, meanwhile, Majka came home in the front group with his leader. The Pole was also second on stage 3 in Celje, where Pogačar moved into yellow with a solo victory.
The UAE Team Emirates duo’s dominance at this race was total, as Pogačar and Majka won two stages apiece. They also occupied the first two places on the final podium in Novo Mesto, with Pogačar claiming the overall title from Majka by 12 seconds.
Domen Novak (Bahrain Victorious) finished in the first chasing group on Sunday to secure third overall, 2:32 behind Pogačar, while Vincenzo Albanese (Eolo-Kometa) took fourth place, a further 10 seconds back.
Sunday’s final stage from Vrhnika to Novo Mesto was animated by a break featuring Unai Iribar (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Aljaž Jarc (Adria Mobil), Adam Jordan (Ljubljana Gusto Santic), Adam Stachowiak (HRE Mazowsze Serce Polski), Daniel Turkek (Team Felbermayr - Simplon Wels), Etienne Van Empel (China Glory Continental Cycling Team), Ukko Iisakki Peltonen (Global 6 Cycling) and Gregor Matija Černe (Cycling Team Kranj).
The group gained a maximum advantage of four minutes before BikeExchange-Jayco took up the reins of pursuit in the hope of teeing up a bunch sprint for Luka Mezgec. The Australian squad duly reined in the escapees shortly before the final climb, only for Pogačar to undue their work with a blistering acceleration as the gradient stiffened.
Mezgec fared better than most on the climb and he proceeded to make a spirited solo effort to bridge across to Pogačar, Mohorič and Majka, but there was little that one rider could do against a trio of that quality. He relented on the run-in and he would ultimately lead the chasing group home in fourth place, 26 seconds down, though the sprint for the minor placings was marred by a crash in the finishing straight.
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