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A solo win for Tadej

26 Apr 2023Fabio Strufaldi

Tadej Pogačar: the cycling world has found its global champion

Due to a bad fall, the competition in Liège with Remco Evenepoel was missed: Pogačar comes out with a scaphoid fracture which will lead to a brief stop in his preparation. Despite this, it was a brilliant start to the season for the Slovenian.

The career of a predestined

In 2019, Giuseppe Saronni, someone who knows much about cycling, had his say about a young cyclist who has just landed in the EU-Emirates: he has a great engine, he always does the right thing at the right time and is much more mature than his age . His calmness and lucidity surprise me. He had discovered Tadej three years earlier and had already demonstrated his talent by dominating the Tour de l'Avenir, and was about to experience his first season as a professional. The premises were excellent, in fact he added that if he had remained what he was, that is humble and determined, he would have risen a lot in the hierarchy of cycling: "no one, not even he, knows what it's worth and where it can go". After only four years we have the answer: the blond kid from Komanda is one of the greatest cycling champions.

The consecration in the one-day classics

We still have in our eyes the majestic victory in Flanders, the undisputed domination in the Amstel Gold Race, the inexorable spurt of precision and power in the Freccia Vallone. What is surprising, as the good Saronni had prophesied, is the ability to focus on the objectives and implement a winning tactic effectively, calmly and with timing. Sometimes they are attacks from a distance aware that it is necessary to skim the group to avoid a final with too many dangerous opponents. Other times, like in the classic Walloon, Tadej understood that there was no room for an offensive from a long distance, and he preferred only one lethal attack in the finale on Huy's wall. And without forgetting that they were races in which he participated for the first time (the Dutch classic) or second time (the Flanders). Demonstration of tactical intelligence that few possess, of great physical power, of an ability to manage oneself in topical moments, in short, a unique talent, one of those that is born every generation. Or maybe even more rarely? There are already those who disagree with the comparison with the Cannibal Eddie Merckx.

An all-rounder champion

A few numbers can give the dimension of the Slovenian phenomenon: he has already won two Tour de France and three classic monuments (Flanders, Liège and Lombardy), plus other legendary classics such as Strade Bianche, Amstel and Freccia Vallone which for many riders would be enough to crown a career and all this at just 24 and a half years old. He has won 9 of the last 11 stage races he has entered. In the other two where he didn't win he finished second, including last year's infamous Tour. We are convinced that he would have won it, albeit against a stratospheric Vingegard, if he hadn't wasted too much in the first week: a youthful mistake and too much self-confidence? Surely Tadej is intelligent and will treasure his mistakes, so in the next editions we will see him more tactically shrewd.
The Slovenian phenomenon was born in Komanda, a village of not even a thousand souls at the foot of the mountains in Upper Carniola. He started cycling at the age of 9 to follow his older brother's activity and was then discovered by Slovenian ex-professional Andrej Hauptmann (bronze at the 2001 Road World Championship). These, noticing that in a youth race the twelve-year-old Tadej was chasing a platoon of cyclists older than his age, asked the organization to lend him assistance: it was explained to him that in reality he was catching up and lapping the group.
Hauptmann followed him through the youth career of the Rog-Ljubjana team until the then 20-year-old Pogačar was signed in 2018 by EU-Emirates to start the Pro season the following year.
The results were immediately exciting: first victories (stage and final classification) at the Volta ao Algarve and final classification at the Tour of California. But it is at the Vuelta España where the talent reveals itself to the general public, with three stage victories and third final position behind a certain Roglič and Alejandro Valverde.
2020, the year of the calendar distorted due to Covid, crowns the star Pogačar. In the Tour held in September, he overtook Primoz Roglic in the epic uphill time trial on the last day, who had dominated until then and seemed unbeatable. A masterpiece of power and resistance: a new phenomenon has blossomed.

What are Pogačar limits?

Like most of the predestined greats of sport, Tadej began to win and dominate at a very young age: he reminds us of the various Tigers, Federers, Valentino Rossi. He also has on his side being calm, determined and swaggering to the right point. In an era in which it is even more difficult to win due to the presence of other great champions such as Evenepoel, Van der Poel, Van Aert, Roglic, Pidcock. Yet he rings up successes over and over again. The other point in his favor is the ability to win both big stage races and the classic monument, which puts him in a dimension of other times: Hinault, Merckx, Coppi and Bartali. Everyone agrees that he has the chance to win the two missing Monuments, namely Sanremo (fourth this year) and Roubaix (never raced). We'll see how his career develops, waiting to see him win on the roads of the Giro: we're sure he'll write cycling history.

The world of two wheels needed a very strong champion, even if in recent years there has been a show thanks to the presence of a new generation of very strong athletes who always give battle. But the public needed the iconic athlete, capable of attracting fans of all nationalities. Sagan had been for a certain period until the physique of the Slovakian talent inexorably shut down. Pogačar won't have the same media or interview charisma, but he has such greatness as an athlete that he embodies cycling itself. He will be recognized and celebrated on the roads and on TV by all sportsmen and women: the generous cyclist, who rides almost all year round and always sets out to win both road classics and stage races.
Waiting to experience the next epic battle on the roads of the Tour, where the Slovenian will have to contend with many opponents starting from Vingegard and in the future against another phenomenon on the rise also in stage races, which responds to the name of Remco Evenepoel.