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Tadej Pogacar, only 20, takes second stage and aims at Vuelta podium

Having only entered the WorldTour at the start of the season, the young Slovenian finds himself sole leader of his team and third on GC at his first grand tour.

LOS MACHUCOS, Spain (VN) — Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) is still only 20 years old, but now counts two stage wins in the Vuelta a España with eyes on the final podium.

Pogacar rode free in the final three kilometers of stage 13 with fellow Slovenian and race leader Primoz Roglic  (Jumbo-Visma). On the steep and feared Los Machucos climb, they gained 27 seconds on their nearest rivals.

“At the start I didn’t know I would feel so good on the last climb,” Pogacar said after being congratulated by Roglic.

“In fact, I just wanted to survive because after stage 7 [on Mas de la Costa], I just wanted to not lose too much. But in the end it was an incredible day for me.”

Pogacar won stage 9 when the Vuelta dipped into Andorra for a summit finish. On Friday, he was part of the twin engine drive to the Los Machucos climb deep in Cantabria. The last time the Vuelta a España featured the climb, even Chris Froome suffered.

“When I heard over the radio that nobody was following me and Roglic, I realized that it’s a good opportunity,” he added. “And with Roglic it’s difficult if you’re going against him because he’s really strong. I could do that today and I’m really really happy.”

Pogacar only entered the top WorldTour ranks this year. Since, it’s been a whirlwind debut. He won the Volta ao Algarve, the Tour of California, and earned a spot in the UAE Team Emirates for the Vuelta a España along with leader Fabio Aru.

Aru, the 2015 Vuelta winner, abandoned on Friday and Pogacar clearly moved into driver’s seat heading towards Madrid.

“It’s my first grand tour, I don’t know how I’ll go in the third week. I hope to still be there and fight for the podium in Madrid,” he added.

“I came here with no obligations, so I think until now on, it’s a bit more pressure, but I still don’t think I need to prove anything more, I’ll stay relaxed. For sure, I’ll want to have the white jersey in Madrid. Top five, and maybe after today, a top three in Madrid.”

Roglic congratulated Pogacar after the stage, but he must start to be worrying with his countryman now sitting within striking distance at 3:01 minutes.

“With Roglic, it’s two different races, he wants to win the overall and I am going for stages to see what I can do,” said Pogacar.

“I don’t think I’m a threat for him, but for sure, we’ll have some more fights before Madrid.”