FERTILE SLOVENIAN CYCLING SOIL

When visiting beautiful green Slovenia, as a cycling fan you are naturally curious to see if you can find many traces of the current generation of top cyclists. You can tell that cycling is alive and well here by the large numbers of cyclists/cycling enthusiasts you will encounter in the late afternoon and on weekends. While traversing the relatively small but in terms of landscapes very varied country, we went in search of a number of places where the roots of the riders lie.

Fertile soil

It is striking that many of the riders were born in or near the capital Ljubljana. Almost all famous riders come from the triangle Ljubljana, Kranj and Kamnik. Apparently, there is very fertile cycling soil here. One possible explanation is that there are a few very active cycling clubs here with a very long history. Here the socialist history of the country, in which sport and physical development were very important, certainly also plays a role.

The village of Tadej Pogačar

About 25 kilometers north of the capital, between the towns of Kranj and Kamnik, lies the approximately 900-population historic rural village of Komenda whose history dates back to the 13th century. It lies in the flat basin of the Sava River and is known, among other things, for horse and bee-keeping. As we drive in, we see the typical Slovenian wooden hay barns and racks, the Kozolec. In spring and early summer the racks are full of hay, in autumn with corn cobs. The area was severely affected by the flooding of the Sava last August. At the traffic circle near the town hall, with a large monumental lime tree in the middle, the yellow tracks on the road can still be seen, reminding us of Tadej Pogačar’s Tour victories in 2020 and 2021. There are also three photos of his most important victories there. One of them is the one in our Tour of Flanders in 2023. Many cycling tourists turn around there a few times before continuing on.

Flags Slovenia and Ljubljana © Rens Klaasse
Traffic circle Komenda © Rens Klaasse

The climb to Klanec

At the traffic circle at the foot of the only 250 m long climb towards Klanec and Cerklje with an average gradient of 4.3% is a beehive. Hence the cyclists fly up the Glavarjeva cesta as if stung by a bee. The highest point of 353 m is just past St. Peter’s Church. The grounds around the 18th-century church were designed by the well-known architect Jože Plečnik. Some of his work has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the summit, I discover that it is also on the cycling route to Santiago de Compostela (the kolesarska Jakobova pot Slovenija). Would Tadej have wetted his incredible climbing skills on this tiny hill as a small toddler?

Klanec itself is a small agricultural village with about 250 inhabitants where Tadej Pogačar was born and raised. Be careful because there are several villages in the country with this name. His parents Marjeta and Mirko still live there while Pogačar spends most of the year in Monaco.

At the Gostilna Klanc, the only bar/restaurant in the village, the terrace is still very quiet. As is the village itself, by the way. There is no trace of its most famous inhabitant anywhere. At the last minute we see that at the egg farm in Potok pri Komenda, a few hundred meters from the home of the Pogačars, above the Slovenian flag there is a folded banner of Tadej hanging over the railing of the balcony. Still a very small trace.

Despite the fact that he is practically invisible in his own village, we did encounter him several times throughout the country in the streets on large advertising posters for Jana brand mineral water with the text “all the way with me.

 

Cycling city Kranj and l’Étappe Slovenia by Tour de France

Among others Jan Polanc, Luka Mezgec, Matej Mohorič and Tadej Valjavec have their roots in this city. On the outskirts is the 400-meter long concrete open-air cycling track where the young talents of the Kolesarski klub (KK) Kranj ride training laps in their striking green outfits.

When we look for the tourist office on the square in the high old town of Kranj, the second edition of l’Étappe Slovenia by Tour de France, whose start and finish are in Kranj, has just finished. The building of Visit Kranj still completely exudes the atmosphere of this competition which is part of the l’Étappe series organized all over the world.

Ambassador Matej Mohorič has the heart in the right place

This triple world champion was born in Podblica west of the city of Kranj. The village in the Slovenian Alps with about 120 inhabitants lies at an altitude of 631 meters. So there lies the basis of his famous descent technique. In 2021, he joined the group of riders who managed to win a stage in all three grand tours. He is the ambassador of l’Étappe Slovenia by Tour de France. The organizers donated €8,000 to the Matej Mohorič Foundation, which is specifically designed to help those hardest hit by the floods in this region last August.

Kranj turns yellow for one day

Although the Tour de France has never visited Slovenia, Kranj breathes the atmosphere of a real tour stage during l’Étappe Slovenia. With two distances of 136 and 68 km with 2150 and 1080 hm respectively, the participants had quite a task ahead of them. Due to the weather conditions that plagued Slovenia in early August, this year’s race took place on a slightly modified course. The route also passed through Mohorič’s home village where a Slovenian champion’s jersey painted on the road welcomed the cyclists during the ascent of the Jamnik (6.7 km at 5.9% average). There, by the way, stood the famous Tour devil Didi Senft. Winner was – as in the first edition – ex-pro Johnny Hoogerland who lives just across the border in Austria. The next edition will be on September 7 and 8. All information can be found at https://slovenia.letapebytourdefrance.com.

Where can we find Primož Roglič?

He is highly regarded by his compatriots. Not only because of his achievements but also because of his extraordinary story: from ski jumper to cycling champion, from zero to the top. He lives, when not in Monaco, in the village of Gameljne near Ljubljana. His enormous popularity is also evidenced by the many Jumbo-Visma jerseys worn by cycling tourists in his homeland. Now that he is leaving that team after eight years, the webshop of his new team Bora-hansgrohe will be busy with orders from Slovenia. On the outskirts of the town of Kisovec, 50 km east of the capital, stands the ski jump where Roglič began his sports career. A little outside the village, near the bridge over the Medija River on the turnoff to Primož’s parents’ home in Stahovlje, stand a Spanish bull, gold Olympic rings and two large plaques commemorating his victories in the Giro (2023), the Vuelta (2019, 2020 and 2021), the Olympic Games (2021) and the Slovenian Championship (2020).

Primož Roglič with the pink jersey © Sportida
Tour devil Didi Senft © L'Étape Slovenia

See the Slovenian heroes at work in their own country

The five-day Tour of Slovenia is in its 30th edition in 2024 and will run from June 12-16. Due to the busy cycling calendar, you can’t expect all of Slovenia’s top riders to start in their own country. In 2023, Matej Mohorič won the final stage and finished second in the final standings. In 2018, he was already third once. Our compatriot Floris De Tier (Bingoal WB) was the best Belgian in 17th place. Primož Roglič won the race in 2015 and 2018 and Tadej Pogačar in 2021 and 2022. This race crosses the entire country. Due to the varied landscapes in Slovenia, from the flat to the high mountains, the Tour of Slovenia always provides an exciting battle and guarantees beautiful pictures.

Matej Mohorič in etappe 2 © Sportida

Text: Rens Klaasse

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