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DUBAI, UAE (VN) – Four wins and a GC victory in six race days?
As far as the UAE Tour peloton is concerned, that’s just what Tadej Pogačar does.
Pogačar blazed a trail through Spain this month in his so-called “easy” start to 2023, a threatening hint of haymakers to come.
His rivals have taken note, but aren’t breaking a sweat.
“He’s such a freak, it’s not worth losing sleep over,” EF Education-EasyPost director Tom Southam told VeloNews.
- Pogačar skips Strade defense, focuses on Paris-Nice showdown with Vingegaard
- Pogačar sets marker for Tour de France rivals with Jaén demonstration
Pogačar crushed his redesigned winter program with a huge solo victory in the gravelly Jaén Paraiso before a ruthless romp through the Ruta del Sol.
After a season of winning almost everything except the yellow jersey in 2022, the UAE Team Emirates captain looked like he was bagging victories for fun this month.
“I’m really happy with my shape, and the shape of the team, so all good,” Pogačar said after winning the overall in Vuelta a Andalucia. “I knew that my level is good, this race I felt really strong, and hope I can still be as strong for the next races.”
No hasty reactions
Pogačar rolls toward season goals at the Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour de France with the wind at his back.
A showdown with Jonas Vingegaard at Paris-Nice next month makes for a tantalizing preview of the race for yellow in July and Pogačar’s first true test against a stacked GC field.
Vingagaard’s Jumbo-Visma teammate, and Tour de France dead-cert, Sepp Kuss isn’t phased by Pogačar’s Spanish streak.
“It’s always best to just stick to what works for you and not look at what everyone else is doing. That’s more of a trap than anything, especially when it’s only February,” Jumbo-Visma climber Sepp Kuss told VeloNews this week.
Kuss spent the last three Tours throwing haymakers with Pogačar in the mountains. Another climber showdown with the Slovenian beckons this summer.
“The big races are still a way away, even the big spring races,” Kuss said. “It’s just about being consistent and sticking to what you know is best for you.”
Pogačar stamped authority through his short but scintillating career by racing hard, all year long.
The 24-year-old won a stage in every stage race he started since the 2020 Critérium du Dauphiné and already cracked 50 victories. With 51 pro wins, Pogačar has at least 10 more than any of Mathieu van der Poel, Wout van Aert, and Remco Evenepoel.
Winning is what Pogačar does. And in an era when even traditional leg-stretcher tan-topper races like the Tour Down Under are raced at 200bpm, Pogačar’s rivals take his dominance with a pinch of salt.
“It’s cool to see a guy like that turning up and doing all these races the way he does. But if he’s winning so easily now, then maybe he’s not going to win so easily later in the year,” EF director Southam said.
Every team has carefully curated training and race schedules for all its key riders. The spreadsheets and strategies are staying safely saved as racers follow their own beat.
“We have to go with the plan for Richard [Carapaz] that we already have. We know how good he is and what he can do at the Tour de France, and that puts him in the frame to be there on the podium in Paris,” Southam said.
“We know Richard’s not Pogačar, but then we’ve also seen [Pogačar] can crack.”
‘It’s a good stimulus’
Those four victories in six days of racing won’t be forgotten altogether, though.
Southam, Kuss, and a number of UAE Tour racers – including world champion Evenepoel – said they’d watched some or all of Pogačar’s performances this season.
The Slovenian’s long solos and surging attacks remain in mind.
“It’s always a good stimulus to see another top rider win in such an easy way, then you really feel like ‘OK, it’s now up to us to try and come to his level,’” Evenepoel said.
“It’s not that it’s in my head all day, every day, but of course, it will help to give some motivation for the next weeks.”
Paris-Nice and the classics could reshape the “Pogačar narrative” altogether now anything less than a win seems a big deal.
But if Pogačar pushes way past that 51 victory-mark in the coming months, nobody will be too surprised.
“For him to be racing like this already, I think it’s pretty standard,” Kuss said. “Everything he goes to he’s always animating it and is really strong.”