Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
MURLO, Italy (VN) — Tadej Pogačar is a bike racer, pure as the sky is blue.
With the GC fight at Tirreno-Adriatico set to heat up later this week, the two-time Tour de France winner simply couldn’t help himself when a chance to sprint for a late-stage time bonus presented itself ahead of Tuesday’s sprint finale.
Pogačar did it again Wednesday, riding away with a teammate UAE Emirates teammate Marc Soler to goggle up a three-second bonus. World champion Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) tried in vain, but was powerless to stop him.
On Tuesday, with two breakaway riders up the road, a third-place one-second bonus was still up for grabs. Pogačar bolted out of the bunch and scooped it up uncontested.
“There was one second, and we were in the front, and if you have a chance, you take it,” Pogačar explained at the start line Wednesday. “It’s like this in cycling.”
Indeed it is.
When Pogačar is in the race, no opportunity goes untested.
Also read: Peter Sagan abandons with stomach bug
With the late-race jab, he snatched back one second. That might not seem like much, but it trimmed his difference to second-place Remco Evenepoel (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) to six seconds, and to 17 seconds to race leader Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers).
Somewhat surprisingly, Evenepoel didn’t follow him on either occasion.
“It’s good for him that he took one second but I wasn’t really interested in fighting for a second,” Evenepoel said of Pogačar on Wednesday morning. “It’s only 1 second. I remember last year we did the same in the Giro but one second is nothing in a hard stage race like here.”
Evenepoel also revealed he was told during the pre-race team meeting not to waste the energy to contest for any bonus sprints.
“I saw it happen, because I was about 10 position behind him,” he said. “I didn’t think he would fight so hard for it … I won’t say I’m sorry, but I won’t fight for one second.
“Yesterday they told me in the team meeting: if there was an opportunity, I didn’t have to fight for it.”
The decision by the team to not encourage Evenepoel to chase any bonuses reveals that sport directors inside the Quick-Step want their young Belgian charge as fresh as possible for the looming GC battle.
Seconds could turn into minutes when Pogačar is on full flight.
GC battle heats up at Tirreno-Adriatico
One second isn’t much, but races have been decided by less.
The fierce acceleration from Pogačar served only to confirm his intention of defending his title at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Hot off winning Strade Bianche in a dramatic solo breakaway, Pogačar is relishing the GC battle looming in the back half of the race.
“Tomorrow we start the hard days, but we shouldn’t forget about today. A lot can happen. It’s a fun race,” Pogačar said. “We were there, every second counts. We went for it, and we got it, it’s more than welcome, one second.”
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) March 9, 2022
Wednesday’s stage is expected to end in another mass gallop, and the course crosses the Apennines in a hilly route that ends with three passages up the steep wall at Bellante. With finish-line bonuses waiting at the line, Pogačar will be racing to wrestle away the leader’s jersey.
Also read: It’s Remco versus Tadej at Tirreno-Adriatico
Is Pogačar especially excited about dueling with Evenepoel?
Tirreno-Adriatico marks the first time the pair is racing against one another in a stage.
“I am looking forward,” Pogačar said. “It’s not just Remco, there are a lot of other riders here. I cannot focus only on one guy, but all the teams. But I am pretty excited to start racing here and to have a fight with everyone.”