Neighbors and cycling fans gathered on Sunday in the tiny Slovenian town of Komenda, north of capital Ljubljana, to celebrate the surprise victory of compatriot Tadej Pogacar on the Tour de France. A crowd of several hundreds gathered at Komenda’s local sports hall, many of them on their bikes and wearing yellow jerseys, to watch the race on a television placed in a car park while a local brass band played from time to time.
The gathering had been organized overnight since most inhabitants, including mayor Stanislav Poglajen, had expected the victory would go to Primoz Roglic with their local hero in second.
Poglajen, proudly wearing a yellow t-shirt, told AFP the municipality had painted the main roundabout in yellow, white and white with polka dots overnight to honor the three jerseys Pogacar wore during the 21-stage race.
With some discomfort he admitted he and most of the community had been expecting Roglic to be the ultimate winner.
“From my heart, I must say I would be very happy for Roglic if he had won and Tadej ended second, but Pogacar surprised us, he surprised us pleasantly,” Poglajen said.
Within the crowd there were also bitter smiles of Roglic’s supporters, who cancelled the party they had planned and came to Komenda after their idol and main favorite at the Tour lost 57 seconds on the penultimate stage.
“We would have preferred if Primoz had won, but the stronger win. We came to greet Pogacar’s fans here,” Jure, a man in his early 20s, told reporters adding Roglic was under much bigger pressure than his younger rival.
Just near them Marko Grilc, a pensioner in his early 70s wearing a yellow jersey, sounded his old firefighters’ horn.
“On one hand, I’m disappointed I would have liked if Roglic had won, but, on the other hand, Tadej is ours… and we are ecstatic,” Grilc told the press. Not far from there, a woman in her 50s working in her garden noticed journalists watching Pogacar’s house and said angrily: “I know why you are here… You came for him, but Roglic should have won.”
“I cried last night when I saw what they did to him… And I’m afraid he might quit his career now,” she said, declining to give her name.
Slovenian President Borut Pahor, who was at the finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris, raised a yellow flag along with the national flag at the presidency before he left on Saturday.
Slovenia’s news agency called it a “historic day for Slovenian cycling” while daily paper Dnevnik headlined “Pogacar and Roglic shocked international media”.
Another daily, Delo added the final turnaround was a surprise but not undeserved.
“The race ended as it had to: with a sports duel that was won by the best biker on that day. He (Pogacar) heads for a bright career but Roglic hasn’t said his last neither,” Delo’s Miha Hocevar wrote.
Roglic and Pogacar have been making waves for Slovenia as the two leading riders at this year’s Tour, but they are far from the only athletes from the country to excel.
The duo’s dominance of the Grand Boucle and the achievements of a number of their compatriots in other sports has raised the question of how the small, mountainous nation with a population of just two million has achieved so much success.
Top athletes in other disciplines include NBA basketball stars Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks and Goran Dragic of the Miami Heat, Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak and two-time Olympic champion skier Tina Maze.
RBA/AFP Photo: Bettini