Around this time last year, Tadej Pogacar finished third in the Vuelta a Espana. He was only 20 years old, making him one of the youngest riders to be on the podium of a Grand Tour.
A year later – he turned 22 one day after his biggest career win – Pogacar literally sent a mocking signal to all that is old, as he throws conventions out the window and signals the arrival of something fresh and new to the world of cycling.
Pogacar doesn’t exactly come from an athletic family. His father is a furniture designer, specializing in chairs, and his mother is a language teacher. His cycling career began when a family friend introduced him and his older brother Tilan to a local coach. Both brothers were very competitive with Tadej who had a rare mix of cold and calm demeanor along with a killer instinct that stands out even today.
Now, Slovenia is not exactly a country famous for its cycling talent, especially considering that the sport only began to establish itself on the international map after the dissolution of the former Republic of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. So if seeing a rider like compatriot Primoz Roglic dominate throughout the Tour de France was a bit of a misleading haze, what followed on the penultimate day of stage 20 showed what another Slovenian driver called Pogacar is made of.
Of course, Pogacar had been deemed too young and inexperienced even to be there on the opening day in Nice. In fact, Pogacar had gone to the Tour with the same mentality with which he had participated in the Vuelta 2019. He initially expressed his support for his teammate and the much more experienced Fabio Aru stating: “If Aru feels really good, we will choose the jersey. yellow and I will support it 100% “.
However, the Italian soon found himself in trouble and came off the list of contenders for the overall standings in the first mountain stages and eventually abandoned the race in stage 9. It was in those early days that the mental transformation seemed to take place when the Slovenian was convinced and the rest to UAE Team Emirates that it is their best bet to do the unimaginable.
Pogačar immediately assumed the role of team leader and managed to travel the first week safely without being involved in any accident. His biggest flaw, however, was that he lost precious 1.21 minutes against the leaders in stage 7 after being caught in the crosswinds.
Slowly, he began to assert himself afterwards. In the second week, Pogacar won stage 9 at Loudenvielle overtaking his main rivals Roglic, defending champion Egan Bernal and Marc Hirschi, who had been on an 80km solo breakaway.
In week three, Pogacar won stage 15, another mountain stage that ended at the top of the Col du Grand Colombier to climb to second overall and one minute behind Roglic.
And then the decisive moment of the penultimate stage of the Tour – a 36 km time trial – which saw the best of the young rider who saw him not only score a historic individual performance, but also win his third stage of the Tour finishing in front. to the more successful Tom Dumoulin and Richie Porte of 1.21 minutes.
But far more important was the fact that Pogacar defeated his compatriot Roglic by 1.56 minutes to gain an unbeatable 59-second lead ahead of the Major’s 21st and final leg in Paris the next day.
Pogacar’s early ability to rip plan and thrive can perhaps best be explained by a home race in Slovenia when at nine he was seen racing against much older drivers by former driver Andrej Hauptman – bronze medalist for Slovenia in road racing at the 2001 World Championships and now the country’s elite national coach. At the time, Hauptman was in a government post working with young drivers and had arrived a little late for the race.
The first thing he saw was a large group of teenage bikers in the lead and a much younger little boy who had fallen behind 100 meters trying to catch up. Hauptman insisted with the organizers that it is important to bring this little guy to the front again, only to be told that the youngest driver was actually the leader after he had run all over the field once.
Unsurprisingly, Hauptman took it upon himself to keep an eye on this little boy, to the point where he later became his coach and mentor. Indeed, it was Hauptman who also proved to be a key influence in getting Pogacar to sign with UAE Team Emirates, thanks to his close contacts with both Giuseppe Saronni and current team manager, Mauro Gianetti.
It’s not just physical strength that plays in Pogacar’s favor. He is clearly blessed with a confidence in himself and the courage to risk his position in the overall standings by launching all-out attacks on the pitch. “When I saw that Lopez had attacked and made mistakes, I tried – all or nothing. I started to lose it a bit. I got over it by telling myself that the guys behind were also very tired, ”he said.
His attack on Gredos was a bit like his career up until now; he didn’t know what would happen day after day. But now after almost a month, as in Gredos, everything has worked in his favor. “I felt like I was throwing a dice,” he said.
“What do you have to lose if you do your best? It doesn’t matter what the result is. If you try and your head is in the right place, there’s nothing to worry about, “he added.
What started in a small sleepy town of Komenda is finally back to square one after the final stage of the 122km race from Mantes-la-Jolie to the majestic line on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris while the world of cycling celebrated Pogacar as the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France. And to a good extent, Pogacar also received two other honors – the polka dot jersey of the king of the mountains and the white jersey for best young rider – also becoming the youngest Tour winner since 1904.
Comparisons with Roglic – the most successful Slovenian driver – are inevitable, especially as Pogacar took his third place in the same Vuelta where Roglic took his first victory in a Grand Tour. But at least we can be sure that this Slovenian has the ability and mindset to dominate the sport for years to come.
“This hasn’t come yet. It will take a long time before I realize I have won the biggest race in the world. I was dreaming of it as a young man. I’ve always wanted to race with the best and I’m going to need some time to realize what just happened, “he said.