Without Roglic and Mohoric, Slovenia are weakened but free from confusion and controversy at Worlds

·5 min read
 Road World Championships Imola 2020 - Men Road Race - Imola - Imola 258,2 km - 27/09/2020 -  - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2020
Road World Championships Imola 2020 - Men Road Race - Imola - Imola 258,2 km - 27/09/2020 - - photo Luca Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2020

On Monday, at the offices of the Slovenian Olympic Committee, the press conference for the Slovenian National Team ahead of the 2022 UCI Road World Championships was held in a quiet room proudly displaying the country’s impressive array of Olympic memorabilia.

Present at the conference were the selectors of the men’s, women’s, and under-23 national team, and riders representing each.

The event came at a particularly tense time in Slovenian cycling, with Primož Roglič having crashed out of the Vuelta a España, after which the team released a rather incendiary press release blaming the incident solely on Fred Wright.

That was, in turn, rebutted on Cyclingnews by fellow Slovenian Matej Mohorič, who came to the defense of his Bahrain Victorious teammate with the equally fiery comment: "We know that Primož crashes a lot".

Jokes abounded equivocating the kerfuffle to Šmarna gora, a famous Slovene football scandal, wherein the 2002 national football team was torn apart by bitter internal rivalries ahead of the World Cup, for which Slovenia had rather miraculously qualified. However, neither Mohorič nor Roglič will be present at this year’s World Championships in Wollongong, Australia.

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Mohorič, after a poor Grand Tour showing and suffering from the lingering effects of COVID-19 and Epstein-Barr, opted to take a break between the Canadian races and the final Classics of the season. Roglič’s program for the remainder of the year after his spectacular exit from the Vuelta remains unknown.

Suffice it to say, via an Instagram post of him lounging in the sun reading a book on alpinism, he will not be at the World Championships.

This leaves Slovenia in a rather interesting position.

Despite, in recent history, having one of the strongest men’s teams, Slovenia’s showing in the World’s road race has been relatively weak. Its best result came in 2020 when Roglič finished 6th after the peloton was worn down earlier by a long-range attack from then-Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar.

Despite a stacked line-up in 2021, the team underperformed, with Mohorič being dropped after the final selection was made, from which only Julian Alaphilippe broke free. Similarly, in the time trial, Slovenia’s best result was surprisingly far down in the standings: Pogačar’s 10th place in last year’s World’s.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic of JumboVisma lies injured at the finish line of stage 16 of the 2022 edition of the Vuelta a Espana Tour of Spain cycling race from Sanlucar de Barrameda to Tomares 1894 km Spain Tuesday 06 September 2022 BELGA PHOTO FILIP LANSZWEERT Photo by FILIP LANSZWEERT  BELGA MAG  Belga via AFP Photo by FILIP LANSZWEERTBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images
Slovenian Primoz Roglic of JumboVisma lies injured at the finish line of stage 16 of the 2022 edition of the Vuelta a Espana Tour of Spain cycling race from Sanlucar de Barrameda to Tomares 1894 km Spain Tuesday 06 September 2022 BELGA PHOTO FILIP LANSZWEERT Photo by FILIP LANSZWEERT BELGA MAG Belga via AFP Photo by FILIP LANSZWEERTBELGA MAGAFP via Getty Images

This year, the first with Uroš Murn replacing UAE’s Andrej Hauptman as the national selector, its line-up is admittedly middling in terms of power.

Pogačar, the clear leader, is joined by his UAE Team Emirates teammate Jan Polanc, and Bahrain Victorious’ Domen Novak and Jan Tratnik. The other two slots are filled by riders from the continental ranks, Jaka Primožič from Hrinkow Advarics Cycleang, and Adria Mobil’s David Per.

Apart from the absence of Roglič and Mohorič, Luka Mezgec is also missing, as is reigning national champion Kristijan Koren who declined to attend citing tiredness. Bahrain Victorious' Matevž Govekar has elected to instead race the Under-23 Worlds.

In the time trial, Pogačar is the sole representative from his country. The profile of the time trial is relatively flat, though Pogačar is known to have performed well in flat time trials, such as Stage 5 in the 2021 Tour de France. Murn told Cyclingnews that he believed Pogačar’s best chance was in the time trial.

"The course suits him very well because it's very technical and we know that he is a very technical rider.”

Clarity

Meanwhile, for the road race, Pogačar is the clear leader. Novak will be helpful as a talented climbing domestique and Polanc and Tratnik can both serve on rouleur duty. Per and Primožič are both sprinters.

In a lumpy circuit course, such a team composition would put Slovenia more on the defensive against the likes of Belgium and the Netherlands. Unlike last year, they do not have the numbers to control the race.

Pogačar is clearly in form, as demonstrated by his outsprinting Wout van Aert in the GP Montreal. However, the World’s parcours, a circuit comprised of 10 laps featuring a 1.1km climb of 8.6%, represents a middle ground between the two Canadian races. It bears similarity to that of the GP Québec, whose repeating climb was 0.4km at 5.8%, vs Montreal which was 2.3km at 6.2%.

Pogačar finished 24th in Quebec, the parcours not being difficult enough for him to win through attrition. Facing competition from seasoned Classics riders, especially Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, it’s possible that the team dynamics will mean that the Slovenian is simply outnumbered.

MONTREAL QUEBEC  SEPTEMBER 11 Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates celebrates winning ahead of Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo  Visma Andrea Bagioli of Italy and Team QuickStep  Alpha Vinyl during the 11th Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal 2022 a 221km one day race from Montreal to Montreal  GPCQM  WorldTour  on September 11 2022 in Montreal Quebec Photo by Dario BelingheriGetty Images
MONTREAL QUEBEC SEPTEMBER 11 Tadej Pogacar of Slovenia and UAE Team Emirates celebrates winning ahead of Wout Van Aert of Belgium and Team Jumbo Visma Andrea Bagioli of Italy and Team QuickStep Alpha Vinyl during the 11th Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal 2022 a 221km one day race from Montreal to Montreal GPCQM WorldTour on September 11 2022 in Montreal Quebec Photo by Dario BelingheriGetty Images

When asked, Murn said: "Tadej is plan A, but we must consider if something important happens at 60, 80 kilometers to the finish. We'll cover up with Jan Tratnik. We know that that he's also in very good shape right now, and he's capable of doing something important also in this kind of race."

Novak, who represented the men’s elite team at the press conference, also mentioned Tratnik, who, like Novak himself, has had a strong, aggressive season as a domestique.

"Jan is super strong and can surprise. He can attack a little bit before the finish with some good riders."

Despite the supposed weakness of this team, it does have a strength over the teams formed in recent years; there is a clear hierarchy and leader in Pogačar. Novak also said as much.

"I think sometimes it is good to go with just one leader like Pogačar because if you help both, it's sometime difficult, spending a lot energy for two. If one rides well and the other doesn't, the team is in two parts. And with one leader it is easier because you have focus.”

However, in the end, Novak added: "You always need luck to do these races."

Perhaps for Slovenia, luck this year will come through clarity.