No Paris-Roubaix just yet for Tadej Pogačar as ‘the new Merckx’ breaks fresh territory in Flanders
With victories at Tour of Flanders, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia, speculation already swirls about Pogačar pulling a monument sweep.
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OUDENAARDE, Belgium (VN) – Two-time Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar had barely had time to finish chowing a celebratory post-Tour of Flanders cone of frites Sunday when questions arose of him racing Paris-Roubaix.
Pogačar’s powerhouse ride Sunday to Ronde victory made him the first rider since Eddy Merckx to put Tour de France and Tour of Flanders titles on his palmarès.
Now with victories at three of the five monuments, some see the still-young Pogačar as the best-placed racer in a decade to complete the elusive sweep of wins at Milan San-Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia.
But first, the UAE Emirates centerpiece has got to make an elite debut at De Ronde’s cobblestone cousin, Paris-Roubaix, and that may not be any time soon.
“Paris-Roubaix, it’s totally different [to Tour of Flanders]. I did Roubaix as a junior, and I cannot imagine how hard it is at elite,” Pogačar told the press after his emphatic solo victory Sunday.
“It’s a totally different pain and suffering on those cobbles. Flanders is climbing, so it’s a big difference,” he continued. “Let’s leave Roubaix for the next few years.”
Only Merckx, Rik Van Looy, and Roger de Vlaeminck have completed the monument sweep. The recently retired Philippe Gilbert came close last decade but could never crack “the hardest race to win” that is Milan-San Remo.
Pogačar would need to unlock the riddle of San Remo and possibly reshape his physique to move closer toward the monument sweep.
“Milan-San Remo will be very difficult to win. This year I already felt in great shape, but it didn’t work out,” he said, referring to his ride to fourth on the Via Roma this month.
“We’ll see when I ride Roubaix,” he added. “First I have to put on some kilos, and my hands have to become more resilient to survive the cobblestones.”
At 67kg, Pogačar weighed in heavier for De Ronde than his feathery Tour de France weight.
But that didn’t hold him back barnstorming over Flanders’ foulest stones Sunday like the burliest of Belgian specialists.
“I’m just happy that I can compete in all those different races, like Flanders, the Ardennes, San Remo,” Pogačar said Sunday. “I just feel grateful that I can do all of them and that I can compete at the highest level.”
Van der Poel: Pogačar ‘is just a phenomenon’
Pogačar is reinventing modern cycling with his “race it all, race to win” mindset.
Although riders like his classics rival Wout van Aert bring a Swiss Army-knife skillset, Pogačar seemingly steps it up further.
Pogačar’s previous victories at Il Lombardia and Liège were huge for a rider noted for Tour de France success, but not unheard of in the two monuments that tilt toward climbers and GC stars.
But winning a windswept and attritional edition of Flanders on only his second appearance at De Ronde stunned even his closest rivals.
“He’s just a phenomenon,” Mathieu van der Poel said after he was gapped by Pogačar deep into the final of Sunday’s race. “He is the man who is capable of winning the five cycling monuments.”
Pogačar now presses pause and resets for the Ardennes. Amstel Gold, La Flèche Wallonne and a face-off with defending champion Remco Evenepoel in Liège fill his April calendar.
And from there, all roads lead to his season-topping showdown with Jonas Vingegaard in a Tour de France grudge match.
“I think I can be really happy that I can race in all these races and be competing at the top level. I’m really grateful for that, and that the team supports me in that,” Pogačar said. “I can just say that I’m just super happy that I can do Flanders and Tour in the same year.”
You can bet it won’t be long before UAE Emirates let Pogačar start the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and the Tour de France in the same year.