Slovenia is dominating the Tour de France, and its president is loving it

Primoz Roglic, Tadej Pogacar
Getty Images
0 Comments

About 20 minutes after Slovenians Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič finished in first and second place in the Tour de France’s 15th stage on Sunday, Slovenian president Borut Pahor tweeted an image of two autographed Roglič jerseys captioned with a prevailing sentiment.

The Tour de France is becoming the Tour de Slovenia.

As the world’s greatest bike race enters its final weekend, Roglič and Pogačar remain first and second in the overall standings. They’ve survived the toughest mountain stages.

Roglič, a pre-race co-favorite, will very likely become the first Slovenian to win the Tour. Pogačar, who rides for a different team, will likely join him on one of the two other podium spots in Paris on Sunday.

It’s an incredible story. Slovenia’s population is that of New Mexico (about two million people). It’s smaller than New Hampshire. And now it has the top two athletes in one of the most storied sporting events in the world.

“As Primoz was joking in France a couple of days ago,” Slovenian journalist Uroš Gramc said, “it is only two million of us, but we are all super athletes.”

TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV, Stream Schedule | Stage By Stage

That includes Pahor, a 56-year-old playfully dubbed “Europe’s Instagram President.”

Pahor, a former prime minister, has for the last eight years occupied the more ceremonial presidential role. He has every bit the panache of a Grand Tour patrón.

His Instagram includes photos with Naomi Campbell and Bono and of his head photoshopped on a flying Superman. Slovenian media and Politico reported on a 2015 Pahor calendar where Mr. April was the president ironing in blue overalls.

Pahor, nicknamed “Barbie” and a fashion model before his political career took off, is most proud these days of Roglič and Pogačar.

“He watches the stages of the Tour of France as often as he can, considering his work obligations,” his office emailed this week. “He also follows the two grand cycling competitions of Spain and Italy, i.e. La Vuelta and Giro di Italia. As well as, of course, the Tour of Slovenia.”

Pahor has long followed the ascent of the 30-year-old Roglič, a former world junior champion ski jumper who didn’t own a bike when he started racing in his early 20s.

In 2017, Roglič (nicknamed “Rogla”) became the first Slovenian to win a stage of the Tour de France. A Pahor tweet the next morning included a stick-figure drawing on presidential stationery summarizing the victory.

In 2018, Pahor and Roglič met for the first time.

“They planted a maple tree that is still growing in the park of Villa Podrožnik,” according to the president’s office. “The maple is a symbol of strength and endurance, which Primož personifies. The President has promised that if Primož wins The Tour, they would both plant a linden tree (the symbol of Slovenia).”

The president has also met the 21-year-old Pogačar while receiving a number of Slovenian cyclists at the presidential palace in June 2019. Pogačar can become the youngest Tour de France podium finisher since 1909, according to ProCyclingStats.com.

Slovenia has a rich recent history of sports achievements — from Tina Maze‘s two Olympic Alpine skiing titles to just about anything Luka Doncic does these days. Doncic also tweeted congrats to Roglič and Pogačar as the nation catches Tour fever.

“Before my departure to France people were watching Tour in bars, that never happened before,” Gramc said.

Slovenian cycling has been working toward this moment. They first had professionals in the 1980s, before the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Each generation took a step, from merely finishing the Tour to winning stages in Grand Tours to Roglič and Pogačar finishing first and third at the 2019 Vuelta. Now, Slovenia has directors of World Tour teams, Gramc said.

“So we’ve grown a lot, maybe the time has come,” Gramc said. “But there definitely is the coincidence that two cyclists are on the top of the [Tour de France], this is just incredible, no one expected. We have to respect that and enjoy it. Maybe it will never happen again although Roglic and Pogacar are far from ending their careers.”

Pahor is an avid endurance athlete. He regularly completes the Ljubljana half marathon in under two hours, has raced duathlons and triathlons and posts photos of himself riding in Jumbo-Visma jerseys (Roglič’s team) on Instagram.

On Wednesday, Roglič and Pogačar finished second and third in the toughest stage of the Tour, keeping Slovenia in first and second overall and bringing the dream closer.

“It’s not over yet,” Pahor tweeted, according to a translation, “but closer to heaven every day.”

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

Svetlana Romashina
Getty
0 Comments

Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

0 Comments

Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

ALPINE WORLDS: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!