As we all know, Slovenian cycling is a big deal, but in Slovenia itself, it’s safe to say Pog and Rog are kings of their own castles by this point. This includes, as is the case with most athletes, sponsorship deals. Of these, one stands out more than the others: Tadej Pogačar, two time winner of the Tour de France now has a sandwich line at the Slovenian supermarket Tuš. The proceeds from this aren’t lining Pogačar’s own pockets, however, as he has reinvested the money into his juniors team, Pogi Team, members of which can be seen in a very frequently running Tuš commercial where they sit in a field with Pogačar eating said sandwiches. Ethically speaking, I don’t know if my money is going to Pogačar, Pogi Team, or just Tuš itself. I apologize thusly for any potential conflicts of interest.
As a cycling journalist, I am more than familiar with a lifestyle that involves eating a lot of supermarket sandwiches, for better or for worse, mostly for worse. I’ve sampled the offerings in France, Spain, Belgium, Slovenia, and more. If there is a supermarket sandwich out there that reduces in some way the misery of this lifestyle, I would like to eat it. But also, I’m just curious about what Pogačar-themed sandwiches taste like.
On the way to the Zagreb airport (where I will depart for the Tour de France), I get my friend to drop me off at Tuš in BTC City, Ljubljana, a women’s cycling sponsor, shopping complex, and ex-Yugoslav-era customs port. The Tuš supermarket is surprisingly big for a European supermarket. It is almost American-sized. Almost.
The sandwiches are in a refrigerator at the back of the store. There are three of them, and I pile them into my arms like a little squirrel and walk to the checkout where there is an option to pay in Bitcoin. I do not do this.
The sandwiches are all small (read: healthy portions) and cost three euro each. They have pictures of Pogačar smiling benevolently at the wrapper, and I don’t know if it’s photoshop, but he’s got more of a boy band haircut here. Each sandwich has a name corresponding to a type of cyclist: “For Sprinters” (Za Šprinterje), “For Climbers” (Za Hriboluzce), and “For the Flat” (Za Ravnince). This is very cute, of course, but it feels to me like supermarket sandwiches are not really a balanced part of a world tour rider’s diet, nor do they keep particularly well in jersey pockets. As far as I can tell, professional cyclists don’t eat much beside pasta and rice, but let’s pretend they do for the purposes of immersion.
On each wrapper there is a little badge that reads “Tadejeva srivna sestavina” which translates to “Tadej’s Secret Ingredient” (no jokes please, this is a article.) Let’s start with The Sprinter, whose secret ingredient is a creamy avocado spread. It’s a long, skinny sandwich about an inch in diameter that’s easily held by the concerning domestique doing supermarket hand-ups. The bread is whole grain filled with chicken breast, avocado spread, and cucumbers. On first sight, it’s definitely a sandwich of the supermarket variety. On first bite, I would describe the taste as neutral but not entirely flavorless. The cucumbers give The Sprinter a very necessary crunch, otherwise it’s all chew. All in all, it’s entirely unoffensive, if bland. Of all of the specialties in cycling Pogačar’s not as strong as a sprinter, so maybe why he gave this name to the weakest of the three sandwiches. 2 Stars (of five).
I then move on to For the Flat. The secret ingredient here is “smoked salmon for full flavor.” By weight it is the heaviest sandwich. The bread is soft and has mustard seeds on it. Inside is salmon, lettuce, a mayonnaise blend, avocado and pickles. My first impression is that it is quite salmon heavy, and that the soft bread is prone to sogginess. I personally enjoy smoked salmon entirely on its own so this is coloring my opinion. I don’t mind the taste but I wish it was on a denser bread. The salmon is quite smoky tasting, and the lettuce isn’t so limp that it’s chewy, which is a fine line with supermarket sandwiches. This sandwich kind of tastes like it’s been in plastic (it has been). I’m missing the avocado even though I know it’s in there, and the mustard seeds feel unnecessary and complicate the otherwise simple flavor profile. Because of the soft bread, fishy smell, and the mayonnaise, this is a sandwich that should be eaten as quickly as possible (we all know what happens to Pogačar himself on really hot days like the one on Mont Ventoux last year and also the one right now in my friend’s sedan). In my opinion they should have called this one the sprinter. Three stars.
Finally, we arrive at The Climber. I save this one for last because climbing is Pogačar’s best quality so I assume that he’s saved this title for the tastiest sandwich. The “secret ingredient” here is “goat cheese for a tasty meal.” This sandwich is definitely more dense for sure, with a kind of everything bagel-seasoned bread that definitely packs some carbs. Inside there’s goat cheese, tomatoes, arugula, and pesto for a more Caprese salad vibe. On first bite, this sandwich is a huge improvement on the other two. It is veryful and quite fresh for a refrigerated supermarket sandwich, almost like Pogačar himself when he’s about to launch a thermonuclear attack after previously flavor launching two more in the last ten minutes. The tomato, arugula, pesto and cheese are all savory and satisfying. Nothing is limp or stale. The bread adds just the right amount of necessary salt to bring out the tomatoes, which forms a very complete flavor. Usually I seek supermarket sandwiches at times when I am in a state of some kind of temporal distress or general desperation. The Climber distinctly makes such a pathetic situation more palatable. I would personally recommend this sandwich. Good job, Tadej. Four stars.
Overall, I think the Pogačar sandwiches are decently healthy and pretty good for supermarket fare. At three euros, they’re a little pricy for Slovenia but you get a decent meal and Pogačar’s face is on it congratulating you for making a good choice. Plus, you get to walk away with the satisfaction that you’re supporting the future of Slovenian cycling. When given the option between a quick meal coated in plastic that doesn’t support Slovenian cycling and given the option that is relevant to my interest, I know which one I’m choosing. As they say in Slovenia, Dober tek.