Tuesday sees Team Bahrain Victorious return to stage racing at the eighth edition of the ‘Cro Race’. Reigning champion Matej Mohorič is back in Croatia having taken wins in each of his last four multi-day races. He will be the clear leader again this week.
Taking place over six days, there are three hilly profiles, two flat, and one slightly more challenging parcours. Lead DS for the week will be Roman Kreuziger, who comments,
“We have 6 stages: none of them are super long but some are harder than others. We will need to pay attention because the World Tour teams will be expected to control. We will have to race smart and not expend too much energy in the first few days.”
“Matej won it last year and is our team leader; he knows the race and how to approach it. He’s had a busy program, but since the Tour de France he’s been in really good shape, and this is one of last races he’ll do before the gravel worlds. He’s motivated, looking forward to racing, and we hope that he can do it again.”
The opening day will see the peloton ride 181km from Primošten to Sinj, with three categorised climbs before an uncomplicated finish. Thursday could also be a day for the baroudeurs, 133.5km between Otočac to Opatija, as could Saturday, which starts with the first category test of Breze. Bahrain arrive with a versatile line-up, equipped to cope with the varied route, as Kreuziger reveals:
“Some riders are closing their seasons so it would also be good for them to finish well, and we picked these 7 guys because they are still motivated; that can make a big difference at this phase of the year.
Fran Miholjević is at his home race, so he would like to show himself, and there could be some opportunities for him if he joins an early break which makes it to the finish. Otherwise he should be Matej’s shadow; Matej trusts him and he’s already shown this year that although he’s young he has the capacity to be with the leaders. We don’t know how strong the field will be, but Filip Maciejuk and Johan Price-Pejtersen are guys who can control the race for a long time. For sure we will need them to work hard on the front.”
Wednesday is the shortest stage, at just 114km, with the potential for crosswinds. It is one of the flat days along with Sunday’s finale to the Croatian capital. There some big name sprinters on the startlist. and while it’s not our primary aim, Kreuziger explains that we will have two riders who could get in the mix:
“Stages 2 & 6 will will almost certainly be bunch sprints, but we think on all the other days anything could happen, depending on how aggressively the bunch race.
Nicoló Burrati is quite fast and could get a chance, even from the 1st stage. Otherwise he will be around the team leader. The same for Matevž Govekar. He comes in good form straight from the Vuelta where he did have some crashes, but feels fine and is motivated to race. He will certainly get some opportunities in the sprint stages where he can hold his own with the crazy guys!”
The ‘Queen stage’ on Friday is 191km from Krk to Labin, and contains 3723m of ascent, most of which is after the halfway point. There is the ‘hors categorie’ Poklon, which is followed immediately by the Category 1 Afrići. This will be the crucial day in deciding the GC, and all seven Bahrain riders will be committed to Mohorič. On those bigger climbs, Rainer Kepplinger will be the Slovenian’s key ally.
“Rainer is the only climber in the line-up and we know there are two harder stages,” says Kreuziger. “Stage 4 is up and down, and stage 5, which starts with a long serious climb of 15.5km. Maybe it will all come together later on but we don’t know how strong the peloton will be so we have to use him smartly. If a big break goes he definitely needs to be in it.”
With Bahrain having won four of the last five editions of this race, the team’s objective is clear, as Kreuziger concludes:
“Our overall ambitions are to win a stage and be on the GC podium, but we aim to win the race like last year.”
The 2023 edition of Cro Race starts in Primošten at 1225 on Tuesday, and finishes on Sunday afternoon in Zagreb.