Tadej Pogačar leaves Italy having painted a masterpiece
Cycling is back and the sun is slowly starting to return, shedding away the wintery malaise that January brings. The opening weekend in Belgium got us off to a flying start and then came the white dust roads of Tuscany.
Despite the dirt of the ‘sterrato’ this famous race is one of the most beautiful there is, and this year’s edition encapsulated that to perfection. Not just because of the famous white roads, this race always delivers. It carries charm in every pedal stroke and possesses an allure of a bygone age in the sport. Like a scene from a Dumas novel, we’re treated to individual battles and warrior like characters duelling on their way to Siena. Mathieu van der Poel was the hero last year, and his three vicious attacks, carried out in scintillating style live long in the memory. This year’s edition saw Pog the lone ranger blow his rivals away before riding into the Piazza del Campo like a victorious gladiator of old.
Along with panache by the wagon load and a willingness to attack, Pogačar already has a palmarès to rival some of the greats. Photo: © Getty Images Sport
The baby-faced assassin would have almost certainly been given the thumbs up from the emperor in this arena. Are you not entertained?! Yes, Tadej, yes we really were. Watching Pogačar race really is a privilege and the beauty of it is, you could say he still hasn’t hit his peak. If that’s not scary, then I don’t know what is. Primož Roglič will try, but beating him at the Tour de France this July will be a gargantuan task indeed. Primož is certainly up to that task, but holding Pogačar’s wheel when he’s on a good day must be akin to facing the rack in medieval Siena, all out torture. To add to this, he makes it look so easy which is the most frightening thing of the lot. If he’s not putting in blistering attacks in the Pyrenees clad in the Yellow jersey, he’s calmly pushing on across the gravel in Tuscany gently prising himself away from the rest of the field to ensure no one can challenge his mastery. That’s how it unfolded last weekend, with Pog gently gaining an advantage before defending it inside the city walls with remarkable tenacity all the way to the line. As the favourites came to the fore on the Monte Sante Marie gravel sector, he stretched open a gap and then stamped on the pedals as the gradients rose to hammer it home. The race was won the moment the chasing group couldn’t get organised, and it was signed off with a high five at the base of the final, brutal climb to the finish. Kasper Asgreen tried, but rarely got within a minute of the Slovenian and eventually will have realised it was folly to persist and risk missing out on the podium.
Eddy Merckx summed it up perfectly: "when he makes a move it’s because he’s convinced he can pull it off. That’s a rare quality that only the great riders have.” This is exactly it and just what makes Pogačar so endearing. Each time he races he races with no fear whatsoever and is willing to risk losing to go all in for victory. Physical strength can’t buy you everything in cycling, it must be psychological too and Tadej possesses both in abundance. When he pushed on ahead of the chasing group, bar the odd back stretch or too, he was always on control.
Each pedal stroke across the white roads, like the gentle brush strokes of an Italian master ensured that Pogačar continued to paint his wonderful story on his way to greatness. A story which you wouldn’t bet against him continuing to add to in the weeks and months ahead this year. In this sort of form and with a stage victory already, Tirreno-Adriatico almost felt a forgone conclusion and you so it would turn out. With two domineering stage victories, the overall victory was never in doubt at the Race of the Two Seas. Pogačar has raced three events so far in 2022 – UAE Tour, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico – and he has won all of them comfortably.
Pogačar celebrates as he crosses the line to take stage 4 at Tirreno-Adriatico 2022.
Photo: © Sprint Cycling Agency
Growing up, cycling was full of deception and unscrupulous behaviour but finally this feels different now. Pogačar is just a kid from Slovenia who adores riding his bike and is incredibly good at racing it. What’s not to like about that simple fact? It’s something we all can believe in and should relish whilst we can. This type of cycling phenomenon doesn’t come round very often. Two Tour de France victories, two Tirreno-Adriatico titles, Giro di Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège to his name. All stepping stones on the way to cycling immortality. Tadej, you’re brilliant.