No Paris-Roubaix yet as Tadej Pogačar revs up engines for Tour of Flanders return

Strade Bianche and Tour of Flanders are early season targets, but Paris-Roubaix is not in the cards just yet.

Photo: Getty

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ALULA, Saudi Arabia (VN) — The Tour de France might be at the center of the 2023 calendar for Tadej Pogačar, but the Tour of Flanders is the first big fish.

Pogačar will return to the Ronde van Vlaanderen in April intent on bettering his near-miss in his dramatic debut one year ago when he took Mathieu van der Poel to the line.

Bettering his Flanders fourth is at the forefront of a busy spring campaign as the 24-year-old prepares for his fifth WorldTour season.

The UAE Team Emirates star debuts at the UAE Tour later this month and will roar back into the spring classics with the same verve and gusto as last year’s wild romp.

“Tadej will be back at Flanders,” UAE sport director Fabio Baldato told VeloNews. “I am sure it will be a good classics season like the past year.

“Last year he performed super good at Flanders, and it was a good experience for him,” Baldato said. “This year he comes back knowing what’s ahead of him. He knows the roads and he knows what to expect.”

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Baldato will be in the No. 1 team car during the spring classics, and hinted a more experienced Pogačar could be even harder to stop.

Last year, Pogačar ripped through the spring calendar, winning Strade Bianche, the UAE Tour, and Tirreno-Adriatico before riding to fourth in the wild punch-up at Flanders and fifth at Milano-Sanremo.

While Pogačar’s 2023 calendar could change, he’s expected to follow a similar blueprint as last year across the spring classics.

After the UAE Tour, he will return as defending champion at Strade Bianche. He’ll race in Italy for most of March, with a title defense at Tirreno-Adriatico and another run at Milano-Sanremo.

Then it’s straight into the northern classics, with likely starts at Dwars door Vlaanderen, Tour of Flanders, Flèche Wallonne, and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

Pogačar’s stage race ambitions are centered on recapturing the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, but Baldato said Pogačar isn’t changing his racing style coming into 2023.

“We love it because when he comes to the race, he wants to win and we support him, and we wait for the victory,” Baldato said.

Paris-Roubaix not on the horizon … yet

Tadej Pogačar previewed sectors of cobbles that were featured last summer at the Tour de France, fueling speculation of a possible Roubaix assault. (Photo: Instagram)

Baldato applauded Pogačar’s old-school racing attitude but was quick to add it’s unlikely that the peloton will see him racing Paris-Roubaix.

Pogačar floated across the pavé during the stage in last year’s Tour and hinted he’d someday like to race in the Hell of the North.

Baldato confirmed that will happen this season.

“He also likes Paris-Roubaix, and we saw how well he raced on the cobbles last year at the Tour, but that’s too much,” Baldato said. “He can do everything, but we have to make some choices.”

Pogačar’s determination to race such a busy spring calendar reflects his ambition and his character, but Baldato said the team manages the situation well by targeting the biggest and most important races.

“We have seen riders who can win Amstel Gold Race and Liège and win the Tour. With two peaks, it’s possible to prepare for the classics, and then recover, and then have a big chance at the Tour,” he said. “We saw last year that he likes the classics. We are excited to go back there with him.”

‘Every race is risky’

Pogačar celebrating victory in Montreal. (Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Pogačar is coming off his best season yet in 2022, and even if he didn’t manage to win a third straight yellow jersey, he was on the winning end of races from February to October.

Only a near-perfect Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France was able to stop Pogacar, who was dominant across the entire season.

Last year, Pogačar won more and across a wider variety of racing than at any time in his young but prolific career.

Pogačar’s busy schedule is a throwback to cycling’s past, when the top stars raced and won all season long, and didn’t solely focus on the Tour de France.

Baldato downplayed any risks Pogačar might be taking by racing so aggressively across the gravel roads of Italy or the Flemish cobbles.

“All the races are risky. Even here at the Saudi Tour there are winds and there can be echelons,” Baldato said Wednesday. “If you think that, you should stay at the altitude camp and only race the Tour de France.

“You need to go to the races, be focused and fully prepared, and the risk is the same for everyone.”

Baldato said there is not an obsession with winning the Tour de France again after seeing Jonas Vingegaard get the better of him in 2022.

Instead, Pogačar wants to race and win just about every time he lines up.

“Of course, Tadej wants to win the Tour again,” Baldato said. “We made an analysis of what happened last year in the Tour, what might have been a mistake, and what we can do better in the Tour.

“Tadej wants to win all the races, not just the Tour.”

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