Deep pool of favourites at the Tour of Slovenia
The 29th Tour of Slovenia, the country's biggest road cycling event, kicks off in Celje on 14 June. The five-day race will not feature the No. 1 rider in the world, Slovenia's Tadej Pogačar, but the pool of favourites will be bigger than in recent years.
Pogačar, 24, will miss out on this year's race due to his wrist injury and consequently delayed preparations for the Tour de France, which will get under way in less than three weeks. The Slovenian cycling star has so far won two Tour de France titles and two Tour of Slovenia titles.
In his absence, the pool of favourites in this year's Tour of Slovenia will be bigger. His team UAE Team Emirates bets on Slovenia's Domen Novak and Italy's Diego Ulissi, who has two Tour of Slovenia titles and aims to get a record third.
UAE Team Emirates will be one of four participating teams that are at UCI WorldTeam level, others being Bahrain Victorious, Bora-Hansgrohe and Jayco-AlUla.
Riding for Bahrain Victorious, among favourites for stage wins are Slovenia's Matej Mohorič and Matevž Govekar, whereas Dutch rider Wout Poels is seen as the team's candidate for the overall victory.
Other likely favourites are Irishman Eddie Dunbar (Jayca AlUla) and Dutch and Italian riders Ide Schelling and Giovanni Aleotti (Bora-Hansgrohe). Riding for Jayca AlUla, Luka Mezgec is another Slovenian vying to bag stage wins.
A total of 140 riders, including some 30 Slovenians, are expected to take part in the race.
Starting in Celje in eastern Slovenia, the first stage will end in the spa resort of Rogaška Slatina. Stage 2 will take the riders from Žalec to Ormož in the north-east of the country, whereas stage 3, the most tailored to sprinters' preferences, will run from Grosuplje to Postojna in southwestern Slovenia.
What will take place next is the only mountain stage of Tour of Slovenia, a ride from Ljubljana to Kobarid that will feature a climb with 9.5% gradient. The final stage will kick off in Vrhnika and end in Novo Mesto in the south-east. Right before the finish line the riders will face a 2.3-km ascent with an average gradient of 9.6% and segments where the steepness will exceed 20%.
Altogether, the riders will have to conquer some 833 kilometres and climb 9,134 vertical metres.
Tour of Slovenia falls under the second highest rating category according to UCI Pro race classifications.