How to beat Tadej Pogačar? Teams and rivals are scrambling to figure that out

Teams have thrown the kitchen sink at the spring classics with little effect. Our editorial team considers the options on how to unpack the Pogačar puzzle.

Photo: Getty Images

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Tadej Pogačar is the unstoppable force so far in 2023 in the men’s WorldTour.

Since bursting on the scene in 2019, Pogačar’s been getting better every year. Last season was his best by any measure even if he didn’t win the yellow jersey again.

Yet the Slovenian slayer is topping that in his spring campaign, and toppling some of cycling’s long-standing milestones held by Eddy Merckx and others.

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On Sunday, he’s the five-star favorite to win a second Liège-Bastogne-Liège crown to add to his growing collection of monuments. Hot off victories at Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, and Flèche Wallonne, can anyone stop Pogačar?

Riders were stymied at the finish line at the Mur de Huy, asking that very question.

So far, only Mathieu van der Poel at Milan-San Remo and Wout van Aert at E3 Saxo Classic have been able to figure it out in one-day racing so far this season.

Our editorial team debates the issue and comes up with some interesting answers:

Sadhbh O’Shea — VeloNews

Matching Pogačar is no easy task. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

That is the million dollar question and teams would love to crack that code.

It seems as though Pogacar is practically unbeatable in a head-on contest, at least he has been so far this season. It might be possible to out-muscle him at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but few teams or riders have the capability to do that.

Instead, teams will have to try something a little different if they want to catch the Slovenian out. The early attack from some of the secondary favorites at the Tour of Flanders was a good tactic and, while it didn’t work out, it’s still a better choice than trying to out-gun Pogacar in the finale.

Even if you can shake the Slovenian, there’s still the indomitable Remco Evenepoel to worry about.

Fred Dreier — Outside Magazine

Alone in the photo — that’s Pogačar’s calling card so far this year. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

Honestly, Pogačar is so much better than the other riders in the hilly classics right now that beating him is virtually impossible, and requires treachery, trickery, or luck.

Perhaps the entire peloton could petition ASO to move the finish line back to its old spot in Ans and then not tell Tadej until, like, kilometer 200.

Or, they could somehow bribe the UAE Team Emirates mechanic to fill his tires with water or jello or sand. I know—everyone in the race could agree to start one hour before him.

To be honest, I still think Pogačar has a decent chance of winning amid all of these scenarios.

Andrew Hood — VeloNews

Taking Pogačar to the line is the only way to improve the odds. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The only way to beat Pogačar is to take him to the line.

Of course, he can still win in that scenario, as he’s proven at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in 2021 and the Grand Prix de Montréal in 2022, among others.

Yet when strong, powerful riders can stay on his wheel and arrive to the red kite with him, there’s at least a hope and a prayer.

Mathieu van der Poel showed that in the 2022 Tour of Flanders, and Wout van Aert at E3 Saxo Classic in March.

Getting to the final 1000m is the hard part.

Anticipating the race, or trying to get a head start, hasn’t proven too effective either. Mads Pedersen tried it in vain during Flanders and hung on for a well-deserved podium, but there was no holding Pogačar’s wheel. That tactic could work only if a rider has the jet fuel to hitch a ride when the Pogačar storm swarms up.

The swarm offense isn’t a viable option either. Jumbo-Visma was supposed to pick up the role of the classics super-team this spring, taking a page from the Soudal Quick-Step playbook.

Pogačar defanged that swarming tactic by taking on the race with long-range bombs that sent the entire peloton onto their heels.

What can someone do Sunday? Try to stay on his wheel and take him to the line. At least there’s a chance.

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