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Tadej Pogačar ripped to an emphatic solo victory Monday at the Jaén Paraíso race across Spain’s gravel roads in a telling preview of what lies ahead this spring.
With all eyes on Pogačar, the UAE Team Emirates star didn’t disappoint. He uncorked a long-distance attack with 45km to go that was eerily similar to his winning push in last year’s Strade Bianche.
“I couldn’t be so happy than to start the season like this,” Pogačar said. “To finish first and in third place is a great job for the team.”
A puncture with 8km to go on the final climbing gravel sector added a bit of drama to the otherwise perfect Pogačar power play to pick up where he left off last season with a win.
Ben Turner (Ineos Grenadiers) crossed the line second on the heels of his first pro win over the weekend, and Tim Wellens (UAE Team Emirates) was third.
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If there was any doubt about Pogačar’s fitness or ambitions coming into 2023, he dusted them in trademark style.
With many calling the Jaén Paraíso race the Spanish version of the Italian classic, it was no surprise that Pogačar hit the repeat button with a searing solo attack on the gravel roads of Jaén.
Pogačar was quick to say the races are very different.
“The gravel is completely different in both races, with different climbing, and different entrances. I would not compared the two races,” Pogačar said. “It was perfect teamwork today. We had a good game plan. I am managed to stay alone, and that gives me big confidence for the season.”
Pogačar attacked out of a select group as the course hit a steeper gravel sector in Spain’s “mar de olivos” — sea of olives — even if Turner made a brave effort to hold his wheel.
He soon bridged out to the attacking Sergio Samitier (Movistar). In no time, Pogačar was all alone at the front.
“The plan was to attack there. Tim Wellens really set me up, and I could finish it off on the climb,” Pogačar said. “It went to plan, it was perfect.”
💥🇪🇸 @ClasicaJaen Paraíso Interior
💨 ¡¡Tadej Pogačar regala una exhibición con un ataque en solitario a más de 40 kms y se impone en las calles de Baeza!!
— COPEdaleando (@Copedaleando) February 13, 2023
The gap grew to one minute with 35km to go as he powered across another gravel sector alone, and that grew to nearly two minutes with 15km to the line.
Late puncture does not slow him down
Ineos Grenadiers had two riders in a nine-rider chase group, but UAE also had two, so the fight was soon on for the podium.
Pogačar was so far off the front that a team car was allowed to follow through, allowing him to have a quick bike change, and maintain his winning gap to the line.
“It’s a little bit scary with the puncture. I was lucky to have enough time to the second group to have a car behind me,” he said. “It was not so stressful in the end.”
Pogačar’s opening shot will set the tone for 2023 as he pedals into an ambitious spring campaign that includes a return trip to Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders, a race he’s bound and determined to win following his dramatic debut last year.
L’Equipe reported that Pogačar will swap out Paris-Nice for Tirreno-Adriatico in March, meaning that he will race on the gravel roads of Italy on March 4, and then fly to France to start Paris-Nice on the outskirts of Paris the following day.
Pogačar races next at the Ruta del Sol starting on Wednesday, when he face off against Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers) for the first time since the 2021 Tirreno-Adriatico.
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