Slovenia celebrates stunning double win at Tour de France
Ljubljana - Slovenia is celebrating Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič for their first and second overall place at the Tour de France in what is a historic feat for the nation that had already been crazed by past successes. The cycling euphoria is now reaching a new peak.
Pogačar crossed the finish line of the world's most prestigious road cycling race in Paris on Sunday after having already secured the win a day earlier with a superb performance in the penultimate, mountain stage.
It was a surprise twist at the only time trial of the race, as the 21-year-old had been trailing his older compatriot Primož Roglič, who had been an undisputed favourite throughout the race, by almost a minute.
Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) came aggressively right out of the gate to overtake the yellow jersey from the visibly exhausted Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), beating him by almost two minutes in what expert say was one of the most sensational performances in cycling history.
He became the second youngest winner of the Tour de France, and is the first 21-year-old to win the greatest of the three-week Grand Tour races as a newcomer after France's Laurent Fignon in 1983.
He is also the first to wear the yellow jersey (general classification leader), the polka dot jersey (best in the mountainous classification) and the white jersey as the best young rider.
After clinching the win, Pogačar said that "I think I'm dreaming. I really don't know what to say," and after arriving in the French capital he told reporters that "this is incredible, standing here in Paris on the top step of the podium."
"I never thought I would be here. It's been an amazing three-week adventure. I have to thank everyone who's been involved in the preparation for the race, everyone in my team and my family."
Despite his talent, Pogačar's victory is in a way a surprise given that his first three-week race was only last year's Vuelta, where he placed third, and the fact that his older compatriot Roglič was a clear-cut favourite among the Slovenians.
Roglič (29) was visibly disappointed but said the failure to win the Tour - his ultimate goal that seemed so close - could prove motivation for future. The ski jumper-cum-rider won Spain's Vuelta and placed third at Giro d'Italia last year.
"I'm super proud. I'm proud of what I managed to do and us as a team which really put on super shows throughout the three weeks. I wouldn't change a single thing, there are no regrets, the best rider has won, so sincere congratulations to Tadej," he said.
Many Slovenian fans came to Paris to cheer their winning champions, including President Borut Pahor, while locals in Pogačar and Roglič's home towns celebrated with open-air parties.
Congratulations and praise for both are still pouring in, with many experts agreeing that Pogačar's performance in the penultimate stage was one of the ages, which transcends any past performance of an up-and coming rider.
Slovenia's double victory was preceded by an epic battle between the two Slovenians, and the likes of the cycling legends Sean Kelly and Eddy Merckx labelled the eventual winner as one of the greatest riders of the current millennium.
Slovenian Andrej Hauptman, one of the directors of UAE Team Emirates, said Pogačar was a great gem of Slovenian cycling, and added that neither him nor Roglič had boundaries they were not able to cross.
The surprise win has also been making headlines internationally, with The Guardian saying "it was a strange Tour but the winner looks like he is here to stay at the head of exciting young breed of cyclists."
La Gazzetta dello Sport said that Pogačar had a brave heart, as he conquered the wind as his greatest enemy, and the French L'Equipe said that the Slovenian wonder had won what was his first Tour De France.
Sports media appear unanimous in the assessment that Pogačar has already become the main favourite in all future three-week races he will participate in, and that he could remain on the cycling throne for more than a decade.
The cycling papers speculate that the 2020s may become the battleground between Pogačar, Colombia's Egan Bernal and another cycling wunderkind, Remco Evenepoel of Belgium.