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Two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) brushed off any suggestion that he showed rare glimpses of weakness on the finishing climb of La Flèche Wallonne after the 23-year-old faded to 12th on the brutally tough climb of the Mur de Huy.
Pogačar appeared relatively well-placed as the gradient began to rise on the finishing climb and he briefly moved into the top six riders as eventual winner Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) positioned themselves at the front of the vastly reduced bunch.
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Pogačar, known for his electric accelerations and punchy attacks wasn’t able to follow when the two front-runners moved clear, and eventually, the UAE Team Emirates rider drifted back down the group of favorites inside the final 250m.
“In the end, it’s a hard race, and a hard final,” he said at the finish.
“I did my best. I pushed myself over the limit and I came to the front row with 200m to go. I was quite excited to be there, and I thought that I could do it but then the lactate hit me and I barely got to the finish. It’s all good.”
“I really liked the race, it was nice and hard. They changed the course a bit this year and it was really tough but I’m looking forward to Sunday.”
Sunday will see Pogačar defend his Liège-Bastogne-Liège crown after he won his first monument last spring. He was asked at the finish of La Flèche Wallonne as to whether he had shown small cracks in his armor after enjoying a near-perfect start to the season. He won the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche, and Tirreno-Adriatico all by mid-March and was a consistent force in the spring classics. He was narrowly beaten in both Milan-San Remo and the Tour of Flanders — despite his overwhelming strength — but Wednesday was the first time he had been beaten on a climb all season.
“Two years ago I was also ninth here, and it was a similar finish style, and then in Liège I was in the front group. It doesn’t matter,” he said.
“I’m fully motivated for Sunday. I don’t see this as a weakness. It’s a one-day race and this happens. Sometimes you can’t do your best, sometimes you can do really good but I don’t think that this was a weakness.”