In Komenda, we love yellow. The coat of arms of the city is adorned with this color; the facade of many houses too, just like the headboard of theAplenca, the local gazette. But the peak of this amarile push came on September 20, 2020, when “Pogi”, the affectionate nickname of local child Tadej Pogacar, won his first Grande Boucle – he would do it again the following year. Here, everyone remembers it with pride… A stone’s throw from the main square, at the corner of rue de l’Oignon and rue du Lapin, a sign proclaims: “Tadej, our hero.” At the entrance to the hamlet of Klanec is the birthplace of the double winner of the Tour de France. At the beginning of July, the streets are empty. Students just on vacation and the blazing sun do not encourage wandering outside. Only a few daring cyclists, perched on their bikes, go here and there. “Three years ago, I practiced athletics. After Pogi’s victory, I turned to cycling, as an amateur,” says Niko, 16, one of them. A stone’s throw away, the Pogacar residence stands on the road. Painted yellow, the duplex is empty, the parents are in France. Metka, the champion’s mother, a French teacher, and Mirko, his father, an industrial designer, rent a motorhome to encourage their son on each stage.
“Never stop trying”
But the neighbors open their door. The young septuagenarians Slavka and Janez have seen Tadej Pogacar grow up and are not stingy with anecdotes. They remember the day when, aged 10, he rode down the slope in front of their house, perched on his bike, holding his little sister Barbara in one arm and a shopping bag in the other. “At every moment, we thought they were going to fall. If we had known he would become champion, we would have taken pictures”, they regret with humor. Fans of Pogi, they hoisted the flag bearing the image of the champion on a mast, stamped with his motto: “Never stop trying and never give up.”
Located at the foot of the Kamnic Alps, which culminate at 2,550 meters, Komenda has proven to be a prodigious playground for putting it into practice. “The peak of Krvavec, with particularly steep slopes, is only 25 km away. From an early age, Tadej surveyed them without sparing his efforts. This explains why he became an excellent climber”, guesses the mayor of Komenda, Jurij Kern, himself an amateur cyclist, welcoming us to his office. This year, the city made a bet. Without waiting for the final result of the 2023 edition of the Tour, on July 23, technical services employees painted the roundabout in front of the town hall yellow. “However, the bear skin should not be sold before the deadline,” smiles Jure Pogacar, 37, the former babysitter of his first cousin Tadej.
An alignment of the planets
In Gora, another hamlet of Komenda, less than two kilometers away, Ana and France, the baby (grandmother in Slovenian) and the dedek (grandfather) of the star, stealthily watch the screen showing the day’s stage. On the walls, photos and a calendar bearing the image of their champion decorate the room. On the sofa sits a stuffed lion, the mascot of the Tour, which Pogi gave to his little cousin Lili, 4 years old. The latter goes back and forth in the house on the handlebars of her wheeled bicycle. She has already announced that she will be a champion, like Tadej, who sometimes comes by to see them in a hurry, “thirty minutes, rarely more, and from time to time”. Tadej now lives in Monaco. Ana does not take offense, she is aware of the imperatives linked to the career of her grandson, of whom everyone here agrees that he has remained very humble despite his many titles. She admits not knowing how he became so strong in his discipline when neither she, nor her husband, nor their relatives were top athletes. Marta Ciraj, a perfectly French-speaking parishioner and friend of the family, however, gives her explanation: “In skiing, climbing or basketball, among others, the Slovenes obtain good results. We are very enduring”, she slips. Jakob, 23, coach of the cycling school created by Tadej to train the future champions of his country, gears up more precisely: “Pogacar’s strength comes from an alignment of planets: exceptional physical qualities, technical flawless, the meeting with coaches who made him progress…”
“He even served Mass”
At only 24 years old, Tadej Pogacar already has one of the most extensive track records in the history of cycling. Very pious, Ana, the grandmother, has only one wish: “He has already won so much, I just want him to finish the Tour in good health.” Before our departure from Komenda, the family wanted to accompany us to the foot of the village church, this place dedicated to Saint Peter and built in the 18th century. “Tadej was baptized there and even served mass, until he gave it up because his training schedule no longer allowed it,” explains Martha, the family friend. It was also on the steps of the majestic building that he made his first cavorts on his bike…
His exploits in the Tour de France made Tadej Pogacar a global phenomenon. To benefit his city, Jurij Kern wants to create a “Pogi-Tour” in Komenda, where tourists who are fans of the champion will be able to visit the school he attended, the first hill he climbed, etc. The town hall also plans to build, in front of the town hall, next to the stele dedicated to the heroes of Slovenia’s independence in 1991, a life-size replica of a Tour de France finish podium, on which visitors can climb. In the meantime, Komenda holds his breath, promising a yellow tide on the evening of July 23 if his hero wins a third Tour de France. If ever, he will come then, modestly, as always, to present his trophy to his family and friends in his hometown.
2023, a suspenseful edition
The Tour de France is going through a prosperous period. With Tadej Pogacar and Jonas Vingegaard, 26, coming straight from Denmark, cycling fans have been witnessing a suspenseful race for several years. Yellow jersey for the Slovenian in 2020 and 2021, and for the Dane in 2022, the two riders, spectacular and endearing, go blow for blow. This year, the duel keeps its promises and should reach its climax from July 14 to 19, when the peloton will climb the most difficult slopes of the Alps. The two favorites will then measure themselves “on the pedal”. Not enough to tarnish, however, the cordial relationship that unites them once they get off the bike.