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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Jeremy Whittle in Libourne

Tour de France stage 19: Mohoric bursts clear to keep Cavendish waiting

Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric gestures as he crosses the finish line to win stage 19.
Slovenia’s Matej Mohoric gestures as he crosses the finish line to win stage 19. Photograph: Christophe Ena/AP

A defiant Matej Mohoric of Slovenia took his second stage win in this year’s Tour de France, just 24 hours after French public health officials opened a preliminary anti-doping investigation into his Bahrain Victorious team.

The 26-year-old, a former world under-23 road race champion, soloed clear of the remnants of the day’s 20-rider breakaway to win stage 19, from Mourenx to Libourne, on the banks of the Dordogne.

The Slovenian’s success stymied Mark Cavendish’s hopes of surpassing Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour stage wins, on what was a fast, flat stage that seemed almost certain to end in a sprint finish.

Instead, the 207km trawl through the flatlands of Gascony became the ninth stage win from a Slovenian in the past two years and the fifth in this year’s race.

With race leader Tadej Pogacar’s UAE Emirates team happy to take things easy on the eve of the final time trial, and most in the peloton recovering from toiling through the climbs of the Pyrenees, the break soon sped clear and built up a lead of over a quarter of an hour.

Mohoric finally broke clear with 25km left to race and never looked likely to falter in what was later called a ‘Ride of Defiance.’ The Slovenian, already a stage winner in Le Creusot and past winner of stages in the Tours of Italy and Spain, was among the most indignant of the Bahrain Victorious team in the aftermath of Wednesday night’s police raids on his team’s vehicles and staff hotel rooms.

A day closer to Paris, however, Mohoric seemed more accepting of the police intervention. “At first I was feeling weird about my integrity being questioned, but then I said, ‘OK, if I look at the bigger picture, this is actually good for the sport of cycling to be transparent, to have these questions, because there were big problems in the past.

“This is my generation,” he added. “I never saw these things happen, or anyone possess anything illegal, so I can be clear about myself. If somebody needs to go through my stuff and through my phone, then I will accept this if in the end I am proven innocent. If we need to go through this to be accepted as one of the best teams in the world, then so be it.”

Mohoric and his team are now the subject of a preliminary investigation by the Central Office for the Fight against Environmental and Public Health Damage (OCLAESP), based in Marseilles. However, with no wrongdoing yet established, he and his teammates are free to continue racing in the Tour.

After the stage, he was also questioned about the ‘zipped lips’ gesture he made at the finish line, last seen in cycling when made by Lance Armstrong during the 2004 Tour de France.

“It was a sign to show people that question our performances to be mindful that we are making huge sacrifices with our work, with our nutrition and with our training and race plans,” Mohoric said. “With all the time we spend away from home in training camps, we all work hard to come here ready for the biggest race in the world. We performed at a good level this year and we have also performed at a good level in the past,” he said of his team.”

He added: “Obviously our integrity has been a little questioned with this ongoing investigation, but that’s brought us even closer together. We were even more determined to prove we have nothing to hide. We collaborated fully with the police, and we are here to focus on the bike race.”

As Mohoric pedalled towards his second stage win in this year’s race, Tour director Christian Prudhomme, told the French media that “the Tour is the enemy of all those who cheat.”

“The past tells us that it was often the police who exposed it. If OCLAESP has been on the Tour since 2008, it is also because they’re there for a reason,” Prudhomme added. “They are doing their job, we should not draw conclusions,”

“I have no idea what’s going on. They’re not sending me a card to let me know. I learned about it [the raid] from the press. This is part of the panoply alongside the controls that exist.”

Saturday’s individual time trial stage means that Cavendish will now have to wait until Sunday for the next sprint finish, in the Tour’s traditional finale on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

It would a fitting theatre for Cavendish to surpass Merckx and to add another victory in the Tour’s showpiece climax, to his prior successes on the Champs in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

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