STA, 20 September 2020 - A new cycling champion is to be crowned as Slovenian Tadej Pogačar is set to win the Tour de France in Paris later today. While Primož Roglič led for much of the world's most prestigious race as a strong favourite, his younger compatriot put on a dramatic turn in Saturday's stage, and the pair secured a historic double victory.
Despite placing second overall, Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) remains a key name of this year's Tour, so the U-turn in the penultimate stage could not spoil Slovenia's celebrations.
Yet a new star is being born as Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) took the yellow jersey from Roglič after he had held it for a dozen days, making Slovenian and Tour de France history.
"Nailing first and second in the biggest bike race in the world is a huge step for one of the smallest cycle racing nations," is how The Guardian put it today.
The time trial brought the 21-year-old from the town of Komenda, some 20 km north of Ljubljana, a 59-second lead on Roglič, and somewhat unexpectedly, even for Pogačar himself, the overall victory.
"Incredible. Nobody expected what happened on Saturday. Nobody imagined he could take a minute away from Roglič and add another one," Miha Koncilija, Pogačar's first-ever coach, told the STA today.
Twitter went crazy last evening and Pogačar is being praised around the globe, with some media labelling his performance a historic turnaround and the overall victory one of the biggest achievements in the Tour's 117-year history.
Although his talent had not passed unnoticed, only few had dared to think Pogačar would rise to the stars so quickly.
Being a 2020 Tour de France debutant, his dream had been not to win the race, but to race in it in the first place.
Almost a one minute-lead before yesterday's 36-kilometre time trial should have sufficed for Roglič to keep the yellow jersey.
However, the 30-year old rider, who claimed his first Grand Tour victory in 2019's Vuelta a Espana, had a bad day - his performance was not the best and his compatriot rival was doing brilliantly.
The surprising development took many in Slovenia by surprise and many experience a feeling of injustice, given that Roglič pedalled exceptionally for three weeks, but eventually experienced, despite the second place, a painful defeat.
"We all saw how hard it was for Primož. The entire team had worked hard for his success, they had everything under control, and then one bad day spoils it all. It's hard. Of course we're thrilled, but still the whole thing is a bit bittersweet," said Koncilija.
"Roglič was the best rider throughout the race, he had an excellent team. So I respect him, he is really a good friend and I too feel his defeat. But this is part of racing, we all try to win in the end," is how Pogačar summed up the dramatic turnaround in the last serious stage before today's largely exhibition one.
A day before he turns 22, Pogačar is set to become the second youngest Tour de France winner and the youngest this century.
Despite comparisons with some of the cycling greats such as Belgium's Eddy Merckx, he remains modest, hardly thinking about them.
Asked by journalists to tell them something about himself after yesterday's victory, he said: "I'm a young guy from Komenda. I have two sisters and a brother. I don't know what else to say - I enjoy life. Small things are important to me. This stage is definitely too big for me."
He described his felling about the victory similarly: "This morning I was happy to be in second place. Then I had a really good day and it transpired that I won. I'm very happy."
He thanked his UAE Emirates team for giving him the opportunity to race at the Tour and his parents for passing on their good genes which enable him to regenerate fast.
His Tour victory will go down in history as the biggest achievement in Slovenian cycling, while the double victory inspires even more pride among Slovenian fans.
Many have arrived in Paris for the finale, including almost 400 on two charter flights, as well as President Borut Pahor and Foreign Minister Anže Logar.
Commenting on the Tour even before Pogačar overtook Roglič, Slovenian Cycling Association vice-president Martin Hvastija said: "My view of the Tour? Things seem pretty ... surreal. I feel like I'm in a parallel world."