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SIENA, Italy (VN) — Tadej Pogačar is the new “Teflon Don” of the peloton.
Pressure beads off him like sweat. Nothing sticks. He has nerves of steel and legs of kryptonite.
On a day when just about everyone was calling him the pre-race favorite ahead of Strade Bianche, Pogačar more than lived up to expectations with a race-breaking attack at about 50km to go.
No one could follow. Game over.
“Pressure? For a race like today we have zero pressure,” Pogačar said with a straight face moments after mowing down the Tuscan hills. “Pressure from the outside world is different from the team. The team doesn’t put pressure. We don’t care what the others say.”
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The only pressure Pogačar felt Saturday was if he had bitten off more than he could chew.
When he jumped on the decisive gravel sector at Sante Marie, surging away from the bunch on a technical downhill sector, he expected to have company.
No one could follow. Whether he did it on purpose or not, it’s hard to say, but Alejandro Valverde was on the 10th wheel when Pogačar jumped.
From there to Siena, it was an open road.
“When I attacked, I thought somebody would follow, but no one did,” he said. “I tried to commit myself 100 percent to the finish line.”
Pogačar: ‘The attack really wasn’t planned’
Valverde joined a chase group that included Quinn Simmons and third-place finisher Kasper Asgreen, but Pogačar nursed a one-minute lead going into the final 10km. He made it up the hard, final gravel sectors, and rode on vapors all the way to the line.
In three previous starts at Strade Bianche, Pogačar progressively improved, hitting seventh last year.
On Saturday, he finished alone in the photograph.
“The attack wasn’t really planned, but where I went is always the decisive part of the race,” he said. “That’s where the moves always go. It was not an easy race. I was really suffering. Ten minutes after my attack, I was thinking maybe this was not a good idea. But my gap kept growing, and there was no turning back.”
The victory made Pogačar the first Tour de France winner to win Strade Bianche.
That feeling! 🤩
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) March 5, 2022
Pogačar shrugged off jet lag (he’d only returned from UAE on Wednesday) and a crash early in the race. His elbow and knee sported minor cuts, but it’s going to take more than that to slow down Pogačar these days.
“The final kilometers were more or less suffering,” Pogačar said. “There were moments when I thought my legs would explode and I would have to walk to the finish. There was no time for sight seeing.”
Unfortunately for rivals in the bunch, when Pogačar is suffering, it means everyone else is, too.
“This is an amazing win,” he said in aw-shucks style. “I went early. I didn’t know until the final five kilometers that I would make it.”
The win is already Pogačar’s fourth on 2022, and he lines up next at Tirreno-Adriatico ahead of a fully spring classics calendar.
Pressure? Not as far as he’s concerned.