September 19, 2020, the penultimate stage of the Tour de France is an individual time trial which takes place in La Planche-des-Belles-filles, in the Vosges mountains. There is no doubt that day that Primoz Roglic, yellow jersey for two weeks, will win and will be crowned the next day on the Champs-Élysées. He is 44 seconds ahead of second-placed Tadej Pogacar. And, wham! The latter reverses the race, wins the stage and the Grand Boucle. A melodrama reinforced by the fact that Roglic and Pogacar are both Slovenians. Does their small country of barely two million inhabitants, a former republic of the federation of Yugoslavia, replay for us the Anquetil-Poulidor rivalry which agitated cycling aficionados in France between 1960 and 1969?
It seems that all the ingredients for a fierce duel between two athletes have been brought together. Primoz, the elder was then 30 years old. Tadej, the youngster barely 21 years old. Both are from the same region, their respective villages, Trbovlje and Komenda being only 40 kilometers apart. On the sporting side, the leader of the Jumbo Vista team and that of UAE Team Emirates have the same athletic qualities: climbers and punchers. At the last Olympics, they each brought back a medal to their country: gold for Roglic (time trial), bronze for Pogacar (line race).
In Slovenia, opinion is divided. The pro-Roglic consider that their hero started cycling late. Before that, he had a career as a high-level ski jumper (vice-world junior champion in 2006, in particular) shattered by a serious injury in 2011. He alternates between trophies and setbacks. His ability to bounce back from his failures makes him touching. On the other hand, Pogacar is a real cycling prodigy and has not yet shown the full extent of his talent, plead his fans who believe that there has been a handover between the old and the new. The first was UCI world number 1 in 2019 and 2020 and the second in 2021 and 2022).
“Rather than opposing them, why not support these two exceptional sportsmen that providence has given to our country?” suggests Jurij Kern, mayor of Komenda, Pogacar’s hometown. This is what Ana, Tadej Pogacar’s grandmother, did, who expressed her dismay on the evening of September 19, 2020. “As much as I was happy for Tadej’s victory, I was disgusted for Primoz , because older he might not have such an opportunity anymore. While my younger grandson still had his whole career ahead of him”.
Three years later, on May 27, 2023, on the occasion of the penultimate stage of the Tour of Italy – in which Pogacar, injured, did not participate -, a time trial in Monte Lussari (mountain which is home to a Marian sanctuary located on the borders of the Italian, Austrian and Slovenian borders), Roglic, despite a chain jump which raised fears of the worst during the ascent, made all the Slovenians agree, by catching up with the British Geraint Thomas to wear the Tour of Italy winner’s pink jersey for the first time. “A real miracle”, according to Ana who followed this event live, like hundreds of thousands of her compatriots. For the Tour de France 2023, in which Roglic does not take part, they will be just as numerous in front of their TV, hoping to see Pogacar claim a third title in Paris on July 23.