Marathon man Mohoric posts 2nd Tour de France stage win
LIBOURNE, France (AP) — Matej Mohoric put a finger to his mouth then made a zipping-the-lips gesture before he crossed the finish line.
Two days after police searched his hotel room at the Tour de France, the Slovenian champion had a message to his critics.
“It was a sign to show people that question our performances to be mindful that we are making huge sacrifices,” he said after posting a second stage win by surging solo from a breakaway group with a darting attack on Friday.
“It’s the biggest race in the world, and also today we had to make the point that we are one of the best teams in the world and that we are on an even playing field.”
Mohoric, who rides for the Bahrain Victorious team, made his move with 26 kilometers (16 miles) left in Stage 19 and produced a tremendous individual effort after spending the day at the front.
His victory brought relief to his team, which was raided as part of a doping investigation. The Marseille prosecutor in charge of the case said a preliminary investigation targeting the team was opened on July 3 “for acquisition, transport, possession, import of a substance or method prohibited for use by an athlete without medical justification.”
None of the Bahrain Victorious riders competing at the Tour has been publicly accused of wrongdoing.
“I was thinking mostly about what happened two days ago,” Mohoric said, when asked about his thoughts in the final kilometer. “When I felt like a criminal with all the police coming to our hotel.
“From one point of view, it’s a good thing, because it means there are still controls in the peloton and they are checking all the teams. But from another point of view ... it’s not a nice thing when the police walk into your room and search all your belongings.”
About 25 officers from a special public health unit (OCLAESP) in charge of the case were involved in the search, and Mohoric’s team said it was asked for all of its training files.
“Even if you have nothing to hide it feels a little bit weird ... when they go through your personal photos, the photos of your family, your phone and your messages,” Mohoric said. “At the end of the day I’ve got nothing to hide ... and I don’t care too much about other people checking my stuff, so it’s okay in the end I hope.”
Mohoric has stage wins at all three Grand Tours and is a specialist of long solo efforts. The Slovenian earned his first Tour stage win by claiming the marathon stage of this year’s race, a 249-kilometer hilly trek in central France.
On paper, Friday’s 207-kilometer flat stage to the southwestern town of Libourne looked tailor-made for Mark Cavendish, but the British sprinter’s team did not try to catch the breakaway when it formed.
After matching Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 stage wins last week, Cavendish will have another chance to break it during Sunday’s final stage, a mainly processional ride generally ending with a mass sprint on the Champs-Elysees.
Christophe Laporte was runner-up, 58 seconds off the pace, and Casper Pedersen completed the podium.
With none of the breakaway riders a threat in the general classification, race leader Tadej Pogacar rode safely in the pack, crossing 20 minutes, 50 seconds behind with his main rivals.
Barring an accident, the UAE Team Emirates rider should be crowned Tour champion for the second straight year. Pogacar has a huge lead of nearly six minutes over Jonas Vingegaard in the general classification. Richard Carapaz is third.
Before Sunday’s final stage, there is just one difficult stage remaining — a time trial through the Bordelais vineyards on Saturday. Pogacar excels in the race against the clock and won the first time trial of this Tour, beating the pure specialists.
Mohoric was part of a group of six riders that broke away in the early stages and quickly opened a gap. A spill after 38 kilometers disrupted the peloton’s tempo and the chase was disorganized, with a myriad of attacks that split the bunch in several groups.
Nils Politt and Edward Theuns went clear as a 20-man counterattack group filled with punchy riders excelling on flat terrain managed to move away with 130 kilometers to go. With Merckx’s record at stake, that unexpected scenario was bad news for Cavendish, since it was extremely difficult for the pack to control such a big group and guarantee a sprint finish.
Cavendish’s teammates did not react, though, and rival teams were forced to take responsibility for the pursuit. A long power struggle took shape in the monotonous landscape of the green forests of the Landes region until the peloton led by the teammates of veteran sprinter Andre Greipel gave up the chase with 80 kilometers left.
Knowing the stage win would not escape one of them, riders in the front group started testing each other 40 kilometers from the finish with a succession of attacks that punctuated the stage’s finale until Mohoric made his decisive move.