Tadej Pogačar did everything that was needed to secure the victory in Tour of Slovenia, and not a drop more.
A solo victory on stage two was enough to put daylight between he and the rest of the field, while a safe finish in the pack today on stage three allowed him to secure his first overall victory in his national tour.
It will be a supremely popular win in the country, where Pogačar has become one of its most celebrated sporting stars.
Tour of Slovenia
Pogacar wins Tour of Slovenia as Bauhaus sprints to Stage 5 victory
Pogacar solos to victory on Stage 2
While as a race Slovenia is far from having the stature of the traditional pre-Tour warmups, the Criterium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse, the win will still be a great fillip to the defending Tour de France champion and his teammates, as they look to go into the first Grand Tour title defence in the franchise’s history.
To win a Grand Tour was entirely virgin territory for UAE Team Emirates when it happened last year, but to win two on the spin – that would be truly beyond anything the Emirati-backed squad has achieved in the past.
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UAE Team Emirates was formed in a bit of a rush back in 2016, when the team only just managed to file its paperwork in time to be acknowledged as a WorldTour squad for its 2017 season. Prior to 2017, the license was operated by the team best-known as Lampre – and many of the same personnel were transferred across to the ‘new’ squad.
If many of the faces were the same from Lampre to UAE, then the main difference was the amount of money being pumped into the team. The influx of Emirati cash has allowed the team to build a really impressive roster, after a faltering first couple of years in the WorldTour where it struggled to find its identity.
The arrival of Alexander Kristoff and Dan Martin in 2018 helped the team to pursue some victories, including stages in the Tour de France, Criterium du Dauphiné and Abu Dhabi Tour, but in 2019 it was the signature of Tadej Pogačar that really ushered in the Grand Tour era. A GC win in Amgen Tour of California for Pogacar was followed up with a clutch of stage wins in La Vuelta. And then what happened in 2020, we can all well remember.
WATCH - Final stages of astonishing finish that saw Pogacar eventually beat Roglic
Slovenia has been an encouraging race for UAE and not just because Pogačar was strong enough to ride away from the entire field on stage 2. His teammates are firing on all cylinders also, with Jan Polanc and Rafal Majka both expected to back Pogačar at Le Tour, and both notching top tens on the day their leader took his imperious stage win.
And this, really, is the area where the UAE squad has improved the most since its Lampre-hangover days.
As the front-runner for the Tour de France crown this year, Pogačar will not get the easy ‘armchair ride’ some have suggested he enjoyed in 2020, when he was able to go under the radar to a certain extent. Now the pressure will be on him from the outset, and he will rely heavily on the climbing strengths of Majka and Polanc, not to mention Marc Hirschi (currently in action in his home race, Tour de Suisse), if he is to fend off the expected all-out-assault from Ineos and Jumbo-Visma.
Both Hirschi and Majka are new signings this year, and they will add weight to the mountain lineup for the Emirati team which already included Brandon McNulty, David de la Cruz and Davide Formolo. Mikkel Bjerg is also expected to make the Tour de France team, a useful engine to have in the ranks.
Pogačar and his team will all have to be their best to win an historic second consecutive Tour de France, but on the strength of performances this week in Slovenia and Switzerland, things are shaping up nicely for UAE Team Emirates. They've certainly come a long way since January 2 2017.
Tour of Slovenia
Bauhaus sprints to stage 5 victory at Tour of Slovenia
Tour of Slovenia
Ulissi takes emotional win as Pogacar retains control of race in Slovenia