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He’s got two Tour de France titles, two monument wins, and a whole lot of stoke for cycling.
And he’s only just getting started, say some of those nearest to him.
Tadej Pogačar‘s closest wingmen believe the 23-year-old still has plenty of room to grow as he rides into just his fourth season in the WorldTour.
“He’s already very complete – he can do everything – but he’s still quite young so we think he can be better at all of it,” UAE Emirates sport director Andrej Hauptman told VeloNews this off-season.
“Cycling’s a sport when you perform well when you’re a bit more experienced, and Tadej is still to come to his best years. We’re quite sure he will still be getting better a few more years.”
With a sizzling sprint, crushing climbing chops, and a time trial that can hold its own against the top of the GC crop, there’s not a chink in Pogačar’s armor.
Add to that an unparalleled capacity for recovery and a boyish ability to deflect unwanted pressure or finger-pointing, and Pogačar has got all he needs to match or surpass the most prolific of grand tour champions. The comparisons to Eddy Merckx come thicker and faster with every achievement he makes.
Just like Merckx “cannibalized” the widest range of races, Pogačar has a long list of races he wants to try, from Paris-Roubaix through the Giro d’Italia. That continued thirst for racing keeps Pogačar’s cycling stoke burning strong.
“Every year, there’s less progress, but that doesn’t mean there’s less motivation,” he said in a press call last week.
“I still want to improve every year, but I know it’s impossible to improve every year. For now, I am still improving every year and that’s my motivation for the next years. You never know when you stop pushing more watts than previously.”
New goals make for first hurdles
So what to expect from Pogačar in 2022?
Judging by his recent Strava KoM of the Coll de Rates climb regularly used by WorldTour pros, Pogačar is still “pushing more watts” than most.
And he’ll need it as he heads into a season where top competitors like Egan Bernal and Primož Roglič are increasingly fixing their focus on how they can unpick their young rival.
But Pogačar’s season won’t be a one-dimensional mission to score a Tour de France hat-trick. Conversely, 2022 will see the Slovenian spread his fledgling wings in an ambitious race schedule. A senior debut at the Tour of Flanders and his first attempt at two grand tours in one season will stretch his capacity more than ever before.
- Pogačar ruling nothing out ahead of Tour of Flanders debut
- Bernal on Tour de France return: ‘Pogačar and Roglič are not unbeatable’
UAE Emirates’ classics captain Matteo Trentin is so confident in Pogačar’s abilities that he thinks the Slovenian could thrive among the cobblestone brawlers.
“Until now we haven’t seen a proper weak point of Tadej, so I won’t be surprised if he can ride through the final of the race,” Trentin said of his teammate’s Flanders debut. “Saying he is going to win Flanders is another story, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the final.”
At the other end of the season, Pogačar is hoping to complete his first Tour de France-Vuelta a España double.
It will be the first time he’s ridden the Spanish tour since his breakout ride into third place in his grand tour debut in 2019, and the first time he’s attempted two three-weekers in one year.
“I hope to do two grand tours this year, the Tour and La Vuelta. You never know what will happen through the season, but that’s what I would like” Pogačar said last week. “The Vuelta was my first grand tour, I got third place in GC and I have really nice memories. And I want to live again those memories in the future.”
Also read: Pogačar not wasting any time in Vuelta debut
The startlist for the Spanish race is still hazy, but Roglič will be back to defend his title, and home hero Enric Mas will be there to boot.
Pogačar is expected to ride with rising American Brandon McNulty, and new signings João Almeida and Marc Soler at his side. It’s a Vuelta team brimming with ambition and an illustration of just how powerful his newly reinforced UAE Emirates squad could be in years to come.
Victory in Flanders is a long shot. But a win at the Vuelta is well on the cards.
However the season shakes out, it will provide an intriguing eye into what’s coming later in Pogačar’s career.
23 years young
Whether Pogačar flounders in Flanders and fails to defend in France or not, time is on his side.
Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas were winning grand tours well into their 30s, and Alejandro Valverde is still going strong at 41-years-old. UAE-Emirates pumped its budget to bring a host of long-term signings tasked with keeping Pogačar as prolific as ever, and it has the limitless funds of its state backer to keep investing.
Pogačar has a contract through 2027 and probably one of the biggest bank balances in the bunch. For now, one of his fiercest foes may prove to be the lure of a multi-million Monaco lifestyle – or maybe, just maybe, the dope detectors – just as much as it is the likes of Roglič or Bernal.
Two Tour de France titles and counting? Could be.