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Pogacar rode free in the final three kilometers of stage 13 with fellow Slovenian and race leader Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). On the steep and feared Los Machucos climb, they gained 27 seconds on their nearest rivals.
“At the start I didn’t know I would feel so good on the last climb,” Pogacar said after being congratulated by Roglic.
“In fact, I just wanted to survive because after stage 7 [on Mas de la Costa], I just wanted to not lose too much. But in the end it was an incredible day for me.”
Pogacar won stage 9 when the Vuelta dipped into Andorra for a summit finish. On Friday, he was part of the twin engine drive to the Los Machucos climb deep in Cantabria. The last time the Vuelta a España featured the climb, even Chris Froome suffered.
“When I heard over the radio that nobody was following me and Roglic, I realized that it’s a good opportunity,” he added. “And with Roglic it’s difficult if you’re going against him because he’s really strong. I could do that today and I’m really really happy.”
Pogacar only entered the top WorldTour ranks this year. Since, it’s been a whirlwind debut. He won the Volta ao Algarve, the Tour of California, and earned a spot in the UAE Team Emirates for the Vuelta a España along with leader Fabio Aru.
Aru, the 2015 Vuelta winner, abandoned on Friday and Pogacar clearly moved into driver’s seat heading towards Madrid.
“It’s my first grand tour, I don’t know how I’ll go in the third week. I hope to still be there and fight for the podium in Madrid,” he added.
“I came here with no obligations, so I think until now on, it’s a bit more pressure, but I still don’t think I need to prove anything more, I’ll stay relaxed. For sure, I’ll want to have the white jersey in Madrid. Top five, and maybe after today, a top three in Madrid.”
Roglic congratulated Pogacar after the stage, but he must start to be worrying with his countryman now sitting within striking distance at 3:01 minutes.
“With Roglic, it’s two different races, he wants to win the overall and I am going for stages to see what I can do,” said Pogacar.
“I don’t think I’m a threat for him, but for sure, we’ll have some more fights before Madrid.”