The Slovenian duo of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar each won key warm up races in the run up to the Tour de France in the last week. Roglič, riding for Team Jumbo Visma, dominated the Critérium du Dauphiné, with only his Danish teammate Jonas Vingegaard within one minute. Not to be outshone, Pogačar dominated his home race, the Tour of Slovenia, with characteristic aplomb.
Extending to the River Rhône in the West, and the Alps in the East, the Critérium du Dauphiné is a testing one-week stage race designed to mirror its illustrious cousin, the Tour de France. Distinguished by testing sprint stages, high mountain passes, and flat, solo, time trial efforts, The Dauphiné serves as ideal preparation for The Tour, with half those who have won this race in the last 10 years going on to succeed in The Tour just four weeks later.
The week was defined by Team Jumbo Visma domination. Of the eight stages, Jumbo Visma won three, podiumed on another five occasions, and their lowest finish was just 11th, on stage six. Wout van Aert, one of the stars of the earlier classics season, shone in the first half of the week, collecting two stage wins, before passing the mantle to the ‘mountain goats’ in the Alps.
The duo of Primož Roglič, and Jonas Vingegaard, both runners up in Le Tour in 2020 and 2021 respectively, were a cut above the competition in the mountains. On the finish to Vaujany, Roglič launched a searing acceleration with two kilometres to go that left everyone, including Vingegaard, floundering, to put himself into the race lead.
The final stage of the race, to the top of ‘Plateau de Salaison’, was characterised by yet more dominance from the men in yellow and black. This time, it was Vingegaard’s turn to attack, with only Roglič able to hold on. They would cross the line, and end the race, one and two; their nearest competitor more than a minute behind Vingegaard, himself 40 seconds from the race leader, Roglič.
Should we expect the same Jumbo Visma dominance in The Tour de France? Vingegaard was typically understated: “To win a stage and finish second overall is a very, very nice result… I think it’ll be hard for us to be one-two in the Tour because there are a few more riders.”
Jumbo Visma may have the strongest team going into The Tour, but Tadej Pogačar is more than up for the fight
Over in Slovenia, Tadej Pogačar did not let Jumbo Visma’s dominance stand unchallenged, with two stage wins and a further two podiums.
Whilst smaller in stature than The Dauphiné, the Tour of Slovenia has experienced a surge in popularity, inextricably linked to the rise of the Slovenian duo who have come to dominate The Tour de France. A mix of longer, Alpine-esque ascents, and shorter, punchier ‘wall’ climbs makes for full gas racing in a more relaxed setting than The Dauphiné, and a chance for the growing number of Slovenian stars to race in front of their home fans.
Tadej Pogačar, who must have been taking a covetous look at Jumbo Visma’s dominance just days earlier, had a point to prove. A ferocious attack with still 60 kilometres to the finish on the first of five stages shattered the group, and only his teammate Rafal Majka, and fellow Slovenian, Domen Novak, could follow. Majka would take the stage, and such was the advantage of the three attackers, the podium would not change for the week. Pogačar had secured a week-long procession.
Now all that was left was for Pogačar to assert himself as the predominant force to Roglič et al before The Tour in July. And assert himself he did.
An easy win on stage three was followed by a one-two finish on the ‘Queen stage’ of the race. His teammate Majka again taking the victory. But what defined this win above all else was the game of rock-paper-scissors the two played to decide who would cross the line first. Such was the level of Tadej Pogačar, he had turned his home race into not just a victory lap, but a game. A game he was enjoying, and a game he would win.
A final stage win a day later would cap off a stupendous home Tour for Pogačar. The result was incontrovertible. Pogačar was ferocious.
Jumbo Visma may have the strongest team going into The Tour, but Tadej Pogačar is more than up for the fight. An enthralling July, crisscrossing France awaits us fans of cycling.