Tour de Hoody: Tadej Pogačar is poised to become the next five-time Tour de France winner

The only thing that could stop the Slovenian slayer is himself as desperate rivals search for a weakness to attack.

Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (VN) — Cycling dynasties, much like economic recessions, are usually well underway before anyone realizes they’re in one.

The 2022 Tour de France opens Friday with Tadej Pogačar well on his way to becoming cycling’s next mega-star and Tour dominator.

Everything about Pogačar suggests he could be the peloton’s next grand tour king.

In fact, he already is.

This Tour, if he manages to arrive in Paris in three weeks with the yellow jersey draped over his shoulders, will only confirm it.

Pogačar’s first two Tour victories reveal a rider on the edge of greatness. His prowess on the bike and his innate abilities to brush off stress and attack the course makes Pogačar a rare generational rider.

At 23, he’s not even reached his prime yet. He will only become better.

No one inside the peloton can find a weakness.

Pogačar is cycling’s utility player, the ultimate cycling skill master. He can time trial, handle the bike in the bunch, climb with the best in the world, and even win out of reduced bunch sprints.

His incredible run across the spring classics confirmed his cycling skillset reaches well beyond grand tours. He is modern cycling’s version of the Cannibal, a rider who can and wants to win everything.

Also read:

In the traditional of generational greats

Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault in their heyday. (Photo: Offside Sports Photography, courtesy VeloPress)

The time is right for Pogačar to emerge as the Tour’s gravitational center.

Tour de France racing in the post-war era has delivered one Tour dominator after another. Each generation seems to produce a singular rider who is simply better than everyone else. First it was Jacques Anquetil in the 1960s, then Eddy Merckx in the 1970s and Bernard Hinault in the 1980s.

A hunting accident probably stopped Greg LeMond at three yellow jerseys, and then Miguel Indurain won five in a row in the 1990s.

Lance Armstrong broke all the rules — quite literally — to win seven straight, but no one counts those anymore.

Ineos Grenadiers rewrote the script to become the first team to deliver four different Tour winners across an eight-year run. One with Bradley Wiggins, four in five years with Chris Froome, and then back-to-back titles with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal.

With four, the banged up Froome will likely become the first rider to win four editions of the Tour without winning a fifth.

Bernal seemed destined to pick up the mantle until Pogačar came roaring in like an asteroid from another galaxy.

No one was counting much on Pogačar in the 2020 Tour, and he deftly played off the tug-of-war between Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma to pick up bonuses, win stages, and snatch back seconds when no one was looking.

His stunning final time trial comeback in 2020 signaled the dawn of a new era. Everyone’s heads have been spinning since then.

Anyone who thought Pogačar was a one-off was pounded into submission in the first week of his title defense. A strong time trial and then a Merckx-like long-distance attack in the Alps turned everything else into a race for the podium.

The Pogačar Era is here.

So what’s going to stop him in 2022?

Apparently no one in the peloton seems to truly believe he has a weak spot that can be exploited.

None of the pre-race favorites expect to be able to crack him. Only Primož Roglič seems equal to Pogačar in the climbs and time trials. Yet Roglič seemed oddly tight and tense during a media call Wednesday, all of his laid-back jocular style was replaced with terse answers. Does it reveal an underlying tension? Perhaps. At 32, time could be running out for Roglič, so the pressure is mounting.

With Jonas Vingegaard as his wingman, Jumbo-Visma is throwing everything at the Tour dartboard, and is hoping something will stick. Twice second to Pogačar in the past two seasons, the Dutch outfit is bringing perhaps the strongest team in years to the Tour to directly take it to Pogačar.

The most interesting benefactor in this new Slovenian standoff could be Ineos Grenadiers.

The team comes loaded with explosive firepower, and although even Geraint Thomas admits the team no longer rocks a five-star favorite, an unbridled Ineos could be more dangerous than the once unbreachable Fortress Froome during its heyday.

The only problem with anyone’s tactic, collective or otherwise, is simply that Pogačar is simply too strong for all of them.

Jumbo-Visma might try to play the one-two punch with Roglič and Vingegaard, and Ineos Grenadiers might angle to sneak riders into breakaways, but Pogačar will simply ride everyone off of his wheel.

Of course, with such dominance inevitably comes questions. How can one rider be so good and so strong to tower above a peloton full of the world’s best trained cyclists? The past has shown that big performances usually lead to big disappointments.

With police sniffing around Bahrain Victorious, this Tour opens with a cloud of suspicion unseen in decades. Is something rotten in Denmark?

There’s not much anyone can do in the face of Pogačar’s unwavering dominance. Assuming he’s passing all the controls, and if you believe that the peloton’s a changed place, and if you believe that anti-doping officials are not looking the other way, Pogačar is simply better than everyone else. Isn’t that, after all, what a race is about?

As one insider said, he’s either doped to the gills or he’s simply a freakish one-off talent. Time will tell.

Right now, fans should brace themselves for more Pogačar style racing, and kick back and enjoy it.

A benevolent king without ambitions to rule

Tadej Pogacar and his teammates on stage in Copenhagen
Tadej Pogacar and his teammates on stage in Copenhagen (Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

And no one can complain there. His style and brilliance on the bike assures there will never be a boring moment. Pogačar is not a tempo-style racer who races off his power meter or a rider who relies on time trials to carve up defendable gaps.

This is Pogačar’s peloton.

A non-bossy boss, who wins on class without clashes. A rider for a post-modern pack, who competes on the joy of winning, not on the devilish desire of inflicting pain on others.

He races on instinct and the pure joy of being able to fly on two wheels.

There perhaps lies his lone weakness. He races with such wild abandon and boyish exuberance that he could and might get caught out in a situation that he might not be able to recover from based on his pure class. That could change as the boy becomes a man.

In fact, the only way that this Tour and the next several might be very interesting at all is if Pogačar makes some critical error, and is forced to chase back from two-, three- or even 10-minute deficits.

Call it a handicap race for three weeks. Pogačar is a scratch-level player, and everyone needs at least one stroke per stage to even have a prayer.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.