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Avenir winner Tadej Pogacar shows grand tour promise

The 20-year-old is one race into his WorldTour career and his team believes he has grand tour abilities.

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — Tadej Pogacar stayed hidden under some shade next to the UAE-Emirates van before the start of stage 3 at the Santos Tour Down Under. Even though he’s only 20, he’s already smart enough to know to stay out of the sun as much as possible.

As the skinny neo-pro went to sign in, journalists and fans looked past him in favor of the big stars. Discretely making his WorldTour debut last week, the Slovenian might not be a big draw right now. That’s all but certain to change very quickly.

“He has very big potential,” said UAE-Emirates manager Mauro Gianetti. “He has the full package. He has big promise in the grand tours.”

In case you haven’t heard of him yet, Pogacar single-handedly beat back the mighty Colombian national team to win last year’s Tour de l’Avenir. After an impeccable under-23 racing career, capped by winning the Avenir title last summer, many see big things for the compactly built all-rounder.

“He won the Tour de l’Avenir practically alone, without much of a team, so he is a big future for the grand tour,” Gianetti explained. “We signed him one and a half years ago. We know he’s one of the big talents. There was no sense to wait. All of the other teams maybe found out later he was so good.”

Like most neo-pros, Pogacar seems happy enough just to be here walking around the likes of Peter Sagan or Elia Viviani. There’s no bravado or chest-pounding, at least not yet. Just a week into his WorldTour career, he knows he has a lot to learn.

“The feeling is different from the U23 races,” he said. “When it starts to go fast, it goes super fast. I am happy to be here. My big dream was to become professional, and now I have achieved it. Now I have set new goals and new dreams.”

Any Avenir winner immediately captures the imagination of the sport. Winners often go on to major professional careers, be it Greg LeMond or Nairo Quintana.

The hype machine is sure to start with any hint of success at the elite level. UAE-Emirates have him on a busy but moderate racing schedule for his rookie season. Pogacar punched into the top 10 with an eighth-place in the uphill finale that Peter Sagan won last week and quietly finished 13th overall. Not bad at all.

Gianetti confirmed there is no grand tour on tap for his first season. After Australia, he’s expected to race a bit in Europe, including likely starts at Strade Bianche and the Tour of the Basque Country before heading to the Amgen Tour of California.

Is Pogacar dreaming of a Hollywood ending to his rookie season? So far he’s got his feet on the ground.

“Maybe a race like California could be good, but it is still far away,” he said. “First I need to focus on the Tour Down Under.”

Insiders say Pogacar has all the pedigree to develop into a grand tour contender. His skillset includes top climbing chops, strong time trialing abilities, and a winning instinct.

“He’s a good personality. He will take his time growing, no pressure,” Gianetti said. “The problem with young riders when they are so good is that they do not want to wait. We will let him go. He can be a big grand tour rider. He can do everything.”

What does Pogacar make of the grand tour buzz?

“I don’t know and I don’t want to think about it now,” he demurred. “We’ll see how it goes. First I need to do a couple of races to see how I fit into the WorldTour. That is still very far away.”