UAE Team Emirates continued their record-breaking season with another win – this time courtesy of young Slovenian talent Tadej Pogacar, who became a national Individual Time Trial Champion over the weekend.
His fifth victory of the season was taken on the 44km TT course in Ljubljana and is his first national professional title after beating former UAE Team Emirates rider Matej Mohoric (+29″) and Jan Tratnik (+45″), both from Bahrain-Merida.
Pogacar said: “I was aware of the high level of the competitors, especially considering Mohoric and Tratnik were competing, however I was well trained and worked hard after the Tour of California.
“In the first part of the course I set a regular pace, close to my limit, and in the second half I pushed as hard as I could. I’m really satisfied with my performance and with this beautiful national title.”
1 Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) 49’34”
2 Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida) + 29″
3 Jan Tratnik (Bahrain-Merida) +45″
As fans of UAE Team Emirates count down the days until the Tour de France, the team has been busy assembling a solid squad of riders to support their General Classification hopeful Dan Martin at the Criterium du Dauphine (June 9-16).
Often considered as the ultimate preparation for the Tour, the eight-stage race will see the team take on two tough days of climbing in the mountains, three hilly days of rolling terrain and classified climbs, two flatter stages that are set up for the sprinters and a 26.1km Individual Time Trial.
Ahead of the race, Martin said: “The Dauphine is a race I always enjoy. Racing on the French roads against a high level of competition is the perfect preparation for the Tour de France.
“Training has gone well and I feel good although I’m not sure on my expectations having not raced since Liege. It is always an unknown how the first race back will go but the aim is to get a good week of racing in the legs and to continue building towards July.
“I’ve performed well in the last few years at the race so am aiming to enjoy the race and hope the legs are there to be aggressive at some point in the week.”
Joining Irishman Martin is Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen, Colombian Cristian Munoz, Australian Rory Sutherland and Italy trio Simone Petilli, Edward Ravasi and Oliviero Troia.
In a city synonymous with Romeo and Juliet, there were no late dramas or tragedies for Ecuador’s Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz.
The 26-year-old hunched over his handle bars and shook his fists to the warm Italian sky as he rode into Verona’s ancient Roman Arena to seal his first ever Grand Tour victory.
It’s been a gruelling journey, one which has taken him from riding a bike without tyres in the Andes to dominating the Alps and Dolomites of Italy.
His 36th-placed finish in the final stage time-trial was enough to become the first Ecuadorian to secure one of sport’s three major tours – outside of the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana.
The man, who hails from Tulcan, nearly 3,000 metres above sea level in northern Ecuador near the border with Colombia, was utterly dominant in the second half of this year’s race, securing the maglia rosa in just his third season as a professional rider.
It was a significant victory for the Team Movistar rider and for Latin American cycling. Back in his native country, president Lenin Morena made sure the stage was available for all to watch on free-to-air television so they could take in this historic triumph. One that many will never forget.
Carapaz’s Giro victory is among the most famous in the country’s sporting history, alongside Andres Gomez’s French Open win of 1990 and Liga de Quito’s Copa Libertadores triumph of 2008.
But, three weeks ago on the start line in Bologna, Carapaz wasn’t even being touted as one of the pre-race favourites. He was meant to be a support rider for team-mate Mikel Landa. And just when things started to go well for him in the race, other issues took centre stage.
When he powered to victory on Stage 4 in Frascati, his win was overshadowed by the crash of Tom Dumoulin, one of the men expected to be standing on the podium come the final day.
Then on Stage 13, when he gained considerable time on the first mountain test at Ceresole Reale, Vincenzo Nibali and Primoz Roglic milked the limelight after finishing nearly three minutes behind stage winner Ilnur Zakarin.
The following day, when he soloed to victory on the toughest climb of the race at Courmayeur and slotted on the pink jersey, he struggled to generate any attention again as the news cycle was dominated by Nibali and Roglic’s first bumps.
For two weeks, the diamond of this year’s race was hiding in plain sight, but Carapaz finally emerged from the shadows and came into focus in the final week. On the road to Como and Mortirolo, he was indestructible, even in the face of Nibali’s attacks, holding firm when the pressure was on.
And after safely coming through Saturday’s final mountain stage to Monte Avena, he began the final time-trial as the champion-elect, sprinting home in 36th to clinch overall victory.
It may have been a Giro short of thrills, but for Carapaz to ride into a setting like the Roman Arena at the end of the time-trial, knowing he was the champion, it was close to perfection.
He’s an incredible climber with a team equal to him. He rode magnificently throughout the race, stayed in contention and delivered the killer blows when Roglic and Nibali narrowly faded in the Alps.
With his Movistar contract set to expire at the end of the season, rumours are circulating around the peloton about a potential switch to Team Ineos.
It remains to be seen if he opts for a lucrative move, but with Geraint Thomas and Froome the leading figures at cycling’s most successful team, it would be a waste of talent for him to play second or third fiddle.
The salary may be tempting, but renewing his terms at Movistar would allow him to compete alongside Landa and target more Grand Tour success.
If he does renew his deal, he will lead a strong team at the Vuelta a Espana later in the year – a race he should certainly be bidding for victory in.
For now, as the shadows lengthen over Verona, the in-form Carapaz is one of the men to beat as the season moves forward.
The stage is set for the 26-year-old to script his own narrative, and this time as the leading man.