ARES DEL MAESTRAT, Spain (VN) — There was a flash of white at the sharp end of the action Thursday at the Vuelta a España.
It was none other than Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates), the highly touted 2018 Tour de l’Avenir winner making his presence felt barely a week into his grand tour debut.
“I felt quite good today,” Pogačar said. “So on the last part of the climb I tried to attack to gain a few seconds.”
In fact, a few seconds is all that Pogačar clawed back. Yet those two seconds reveal just how bright the future — and present — is for Pogačar.
The 20-year-old Slovenian isn’t waiting long before taking on the Vuelta.
Thursday’s surge came on the heels of Wednesday’s seventh-place finish atop the Javalambre climb, just 30 seconds behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and compatriot Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).
For a rider who isn’t old enough to order a beer after becoming the youngest winner of a WorldTour stage-race in May at the Amgen Tour of California, the 20-year-old Slovenian is already impressing in the opening days of what’s been a very difficult first week of the 2019 Vuelta.
“He has no pressure at all during this Vuelta,” said UAE-Emirates sport director Matxin Fernández. “Everyone knows how good he is. We want him to get this first experience in a grand tour.”
Pogačar will start Friday’s decisive climbing stage to Mas de la Costa sitting 10th overall. That’s pretty good company to be in.
He’ll also be back in his regular UAE-Emirates kit. Pogacar raced Thursday in the Vuelta’s new best young rider’s white jersey because category-leader Miguel Ángel López (Astana) was wearing the red leader’s jersey. After Astana let the jersey ride away Thursday into the hands of Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida), López will be back on white.
Speaking to CyclingProNet at the start of Friday’s stage, he said he is surprised by his performances so far in the Vuelta.
“This Vuelta is really good for me. I am think I am surprised, and so is everyone else. I will keep trying,” he said. “We will see how it ends. If I have a good day, every climb is good for me. We still have a long Vuelta to come. From day to day, we decide how we feel.
Just how far can Pogačar go in this Vuelta?
First, it remains to be seen whether or not will complete the entire three weeks. After all, he is only 20. But if Pogačar can make it to the Vuelta’s second rest day, chances are he’d be able to finish off the relatively light third week to make it to Madrid without going to deep.
UAE-Emirates certainly won’t be putting a leash on the ambitious Pogačar. And why should they? In the first half of his debut season, he scored two GC victories — at California as well as the five-day Volta ao Algarve — as well as riding to 18th in his monument debut at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
“He has very big potential,” said UAE-Emirates manager Mauro Gianetti in an earlier interview. “He has the full package. He has big promise in the grand tours.”
Throughout his young career, Pogačar has been beating expectations.
Last summer, Pogačar single-handedly beat back the mighty Colombian national team to win the 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. UAE-Emirates snapped him up and signed him to a five-year contract.
In the first half of 2019, Pogačar has been riding like a rider 10 years older. Don’t be shocked if he delivers more surprises before the race is out.