Not much would have been missing, and the Slovenian cycling wonder would have suffered a major setback on the sixth day of the Tour de France. Eight kilometers before the finish on the bare Mont Aigoual, Tadej Pogacar, the 21-year-old climbing talent from the skier and jumper nation, had to change his bike due to a defect. An inopportune moment for such damage. But Pogacar rolled himself back lightly. He was helped by the fact that the speed of Team Ineos’ mountain range is rather subdued. The once so dominant formation appears reduced to the dimensions of a narrow-gauge railway.
Ineos’ weakness is also directly related to the strength of another Slovenian: Primoz Roglic is currently the ultimate in cycling. The winner of the Vuelta 2019 won the first mountain sprint of this Tour de France on Tuesday, Pogacar landed directly behind. Roglic’s team Jumbo-Visma has replaced Ineos as the dominant team. Above all, however, Roglic himself drove into the gap opened by the absence of Chris Froome, who once dominated everything. For Froome’s successor Egan Bernal as the tour winner, the footsteps currently seem too big.
The starting point of this development can be dated fairly precisely: late summer 2015. Roglic was on vacation when he received an offer from the World Tour team Lotto-Jumbo to come to the Netherlands for a performance test. Like Sauerbier, his team boss at the time, Bogdan Fink, had offered the compatriot. “I knew he had what it takes to be a world tour. He had won the Tour of Slovenia that year, ahead of Mikel Nieve, who was then driving for Team Sky. Nieve was not taken to the Tour de France because they thought he was out of shape, ”Fink told the“ nd ”. “Sky didn’t want to sign Roglic. They had doubts whether it was really good. “
Other teams also waved them off, did not trust the former ski jumper on the way. Or maybe they thought doping was involved. Slovenian professionals were often suspected of doping. Tadej Valjavec, for example, was banned in 2011 because of suspicious values in his blood passport and, after retirement, opened a sports hotel near the border with Italy, to which doping guru Michele Ferrari is said to have sent some of his clients. Rumors also wafted around Milan Erzen, who was sporting director at Fink’s Team Adria Mobil for a few years and later co-founder of the WorldTour racing team Bahrain-McLaren. So the skepticism was understandable.
The performance values that Roglic, who had just arrived from a beach holiday, then delivered during the test in the Lotto-Jumbo laboratory made those present sit up and take notice. The test driver’s words also caused astonishment. “He said that he wanted to try to win the Tour de France and that he would give himself five years to do it,” Frans Maassen recently told the sports newspaper “L’Equipe”. At that time he was a trainer at Lotto, now at the successor team Jumbo-Visma.
The five-year plan seems to be working just in time. From his time in ski jumping, the former junior world champion Roglic brings with him the absolute will to win and the art of concentrating on the essentials. “He’s got the explosiveness from ski jumping. And the flexibility that he once trained himself on skis will certainly help him now with his positioning on the bike, ”said Zwone Pograjc“ nd ”. He should know, he was Roglic’s first ski jumping coach.
In developing his talent, Roglic may also be helped by the fact that he began to exploit it relatively late. “Before that, he mainly trained strength and speed. As a ski jumper, he put little emphasis on endurance; That can be an advantage, «says sports scientist Radoje Milic from Ljubljana. According to Milic, if you focus on endurance very early on, two mistakes are sometimes made: The strength aspect is neglected and too much emphasis is placed on extensive training. This in turn comes at the expense of intensity.
Milic had already examined Roglic who switched to a performance test in 2013 and was just as enthusiastic about the values as Frans Maassen and Co. two years later. An even greater glow comes into the eyes of the Slovenian performance diagnostician when he is asked about Tadej Pogacar: “He had for me even better values than Roglic. “
Pogacar chose the direct route and got his first professional cycling contract at an unusually young age. He benefited from the international network of old Slovenian stars. His compatriot Andrej Hauptman is responsible for his team UAE, who won bronze in the road race in 2001 during his playing days and also accompanied Roglic at the beginning. Another reason for the large number of Slovenian cycling talents – five Slovenes are currently taking part in the Tour de France – are the talent detection systems that have been rescued from socialist times. Often they lead to careers in skiing. In the meantime, cycling has emerged from a niche existence in the country, also thanks to the successes of Roglic, Pogacar and ex-junior world champion Matej Mohoric.
It is difficult to estimate how large the share of old and new doping structures is in the success. Slovenian professional cyclists were apparently also clients of the Erfurt doping doctor Mark Schmidt. In the case of Roglic and Pogacar, however, there is currently no evidence of manipulation. In this respect, depending on your mood, you can cheer, marvel or take critical note of the successes of the small country. In any case, as of now, the small climbing group from the low mountain range in Southeastern Europe is clearly ahead of the high mountain climbers from Colombia.