Slovenia in Tour de France spotlight with Roglic and Pogacar


La Rochelle (France) (AFP)

Alpine skiing is a national pastime in Slovenia, but after the frantic first nine days of action on the Tour de France two cyclists from the mountainous nation have been at the forefront of the action.

Going into Tuesday's stage 10 former junior world champion ski jumper Primoz Roglic is in the fabled overall leader's yellow jersey, while rookie Tadej Pogacar has had a roller-coaster first week that has won him many admirers and his first stage victory on Sunday's Pyrenean slog.

Roglic converted to cycling after a gut-wrenching near fatal fall back in 2007, and, now 30, has appeared to be the strongest physically on the 2020 Tour.

"Primoz just happened," Slovenian journalist David Crmelj told AFP. "While Tadej is a product of what has come because of him."

The pair are still connected to and return to the same Ljubljana cycling club, a now booming part of the sports scene due to Roglic's victories.

Roglic won the 2019 Vuelta a Espana, and led the Giro before slumping to third with the other teams ganging up to deny him victory.

He leads Jumbo-Visma, who are taking the fight to British outfit Ineos on this Tour, going into the rest day with three stage wins, one from Roglic, and the overall lead.

"It was a good team performance," Roglic said Sunday in a typical reaction from the man of few words.

"Many things can happen on the road between here and Paris."

French climber Romain Bardet said Monday: "Barring a miracle I have no idea how I can take 30 seconds off him."

Ineos are lurking in second place with their "mission clarity" strategy of aiming to be in yellow on the evening of the 20th stage.

On Sunday, Roglic almost crowned his first yellow jersey on his third Tour by clinching a stage win, but was pipped on the line by the 21-year-old Pogacar, who now leads UAE Emirates.

"He's won before and he'll win again. He and I can achieve great things for Slovenia," said Pogacar, who twice lost time earlier in the week, but is now within 41 seconds of the lead.

The two Slovenians narrowly avoided disaster as they crossed the final summit.

"I was careless, I thought I'd gone past everyone," explained Pogacar, who won three stages on the 2019 Vuelta and eventually came third there.

"We worked together then to put time into the others behind us. This is a really amazing experience."

Even Roglic's main mountain domestique, the brilliant American climber Sepp Kuss, revealed this week his great-grandparents emigrated to the US form Slovenia.

Kuss said this week that while he didn't know much Slovenian he and Roglic both loved a delicacy of the country, Potica, a kind of rolled dough filled with something sweet and resembling a Swiss roll.

The nation of just two million sits between Italy, a two-hour drive from Venice, and Croatia and is a former part of Yugoslavia.