Why wait? Tadej Pogačar should race Paris-Roubaix now

Commentary: Pogačar should strike while the iron is hot and divebomb into the 'Hell of the North' this weekend.

Photo: Chris Auld / VN

It’s hard not to imagine Tadej Pogačar parachuting into Compiègne unannounced on Sunday and winning Paris-Roubaix.

It’s just the kind of thing the boyish meme-lord and king of modern cycling would do.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen. UAE Team Emirates staff confirmed this week to VeloNews the all-conquering Slovenian will sit on the Roubaix sidelines this weekend after his Tour of Flanders blitz.

It feels like a lost opportunity.

Pogačar confirmed within minutes of conquering De Ronde last weekend he would make his Paris-Roubaix debut one day.

That day should be Sunday.

Why not strike while the iron is roaring hot?

The 24-year-old took it to the cobblestone elite at E3 Saxo Classic, delivered a masterpiece in Flanders, and seems to have the peloton on puppet strings.

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Fast forward 12, 24, or 36 months to future editions of the “Hell of the North,” and Pogačar might not have the same diamonds in his legs or may have hit any number of divots on the roads toward Roubaix.

And from a purely selfish perspective, Pogačar’s debut in “Hell” would serve the ultimate popcorning-chowing thrill-ride for us on the couch.

No need to wait to gain weight

Pogačar rode the cobbles like a veteran on his way to victory in De Ronde. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

“To win Roubaix, I have to put on some kilos. It’s going to be tough. At the moment I think I’m still too light,” Pogačar said in Oudenaarde last weekend. “Let’s save Roubaix for the future.”

Pogačar showed before his whippety mid-60kg weight is no handbrake on the harsh northern stones.

Just look back at last year’s Tour de France.

He put lifelong cobble-basher and eight-time Roubaix racer Jasper Stuyven in the hurt-box on the “Roubaix stage” in a barnstorming cobblestone ride that out-placed Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and a pack of pavé aficionados.

It was a vivid demonstration of Pogačar’s race-gobbling verve and a preview of what’s possible. And it was when the Slovenian slayer was at a feathery climber weight suited to the marathon climbs and steep grades of the Alps and Pyrénées.

“That you have to be heavy to ride fast over cobblestones is a story that has taken on a life of its own. But it’s nonsense. You just have to be strong,” four-time Roubaix winner Tom Boonen told the Sporza podcast.

“Often big riders are also strong, and have a little more power on the flat. But Pogačar can certainly also kick the necessary watts to be good in Roubaix.”

Pogačar proved already he’s a true modern Merckx, a one-of-an-era ace capable of conquering any race on the calendar.

He’s got the racecraft and raw power to win on both the bergs of Flanders and the summit finishes of south France. And perhaps more importantly, he’s got a will to race when and where he can that’s matched by an intangible winner’s touch.

Heck, he could probably skip the ritual pre-race recons and still ride Roubaix with aplomb.

“He’s just a phenomenon. He is the man who is capable of winning the five cycling monuments,” two-time Flanders champion Van der Poel said after he was gapped by Pogačar last weekend.

Pogačar put the hurt on eight-time Roubaix racer Jasper Stuyven in the Roubaix stage of the Tour de France. (Photo: DAVID STOCKMAN/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

Sure, the 20km of low-grade pavé of last year’s Tour stage is far from the full filthy 55km menu to be served up in hellish portions Sunday.

The beyond-belief stones of the Trouee d’Arenberg and Carrefour de l’Arbre were bypassed by the Tour peloton last summer and will bring fear to even the most grizzled of cobblestone specialist on Sunday.

Nonetheless, it would be impossible to strike Pogačar out of at least a four-star favorite’s bracket if he were to dive-bomb into the “Hell of the North” this weekend.

His cyclocross skills, raw horsepower, and effortless grace saw him almost float over the stones of Belgium in recent weeks.

But Pogačar has a lot more than monuments in his mind, and he’s got a big date with Jonas Vingegaard on the calendar for the summer.

And as so many unlucky racers would attest, Paris-Robuaix isn’t a race to be taken lightly. Concussions, dislocations, and worse fill the medical bulletin after any ride into Roubaix’s velodrome.

It’s understandable Pogačar doesn’t want to cause carnage to his calamity-free career with serious injury on the pavé Sunday.

But if he wants to live up to the hype of achieving a monument grand-slam, he’s got to start hunting it soon.

‘Tadej says San Remo will be his toughest challenge, I think it’ll be Roubaix’

What can’t Pogačar do? Even he won’t know until he races Roubaix.

Only three riders – Rik Van Looy, Roger de Vlaeminck and Pogačar’s template Eddy Merckx – have completed the full monument sweep.

It’s harder to achieve than the grand tour triple, and a feat rarely even thought of in the hyperdrive modern peloton. Philippe Gilbert was stuck chasing Milan-San Remo for three seasons before he retired one short of the monument set.

With victories already in Flanders, Liège, and Lombardia, it’s San Remo and Roubaix that stand in Pogacar’s way of getting one step closer to Merckx by slamming the big five.

“Tadej says that Milan-San Remo will be his toughest challenge, but I think it’ll be Paris-Roubaix,” Pogačar’s former UAE Emirates director and long-time mentor Allan Peiper told Dernière Heure. “But he’s a phenomenal racer, so everything’s possible.”

Class may be permanent, but race-winning form is temporary.

So c’mon Tadej, you’ve got fire in the legs, and play the peloton like it’s a PlayStation.

Paris-Roubaix is calling for you, and the world is calling for you to ride Paris-Roubaix.

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