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.”
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.”
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— Borut Pahor (@BorutPahor) July 20, 2017