Tadej Pogačar was the revelation of the 2019 Vuelta a España. The 20-year-old Slovenian won three stages and attacked his way onto the final podium during the race’s last day in the mountains, finishing behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and overall winner Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma). The head-turning performance came amid a season of high points for Pogačar, who took his first professional win at the Volta ao Algarve, and then won a stage and the overall at the Amgen Tour of California.
Now, less than a year after he won the Tour de l’Avenir—a race that is a harbinger for future greatness—Pogačar has achieved in his first season what many riders would dream to have in their entire careers.
So, what were the keys to Pogačar’s stunning ride at the Vuelta? Below, we’ve analyzed his power data posted to Strava from key stages in the race’s opening week. What does it tell us? Pogačar saved his legs in the chaotic opening week of the Vuelta, ceding time on the first salvo of summit finishes. He was then able to produce a winning ride after nine stages of hard racing, and average 325 watts over a mountainous stage in Andorra to Cortals e’Encamp. Let’s take a deeper dive into Pogačar’s data.
Height: 1.77 m (5 ft 10 in)
Weight: 66 kg (145 lbs.)
Stage 1 – Salinas de Torrevieja › Torrevieja (13.4 km TTT)
Pogačar’s Vuelta could have ended on Stage 1. In a freak-crash caused by water leaking from a local’s broken garden hose, nearly all of UAE-Team Emirates slid out on an off-camber turn and slid into the barriers at nearly 50 kph. Miraculously, all escaped without injury, and the riders gingerly remounted their bikes before continuing on towards the finish. UAE-Team Emirates crossed the line for the most part intact, but with a time of 15:58, had already lost major time to their GC rivals.
UAE-Team Emirates employed an interesting pre-race strategy, as they completed a full-gas TTT effort in the afternoon, about four hours before the official start of Stage 1. The team’s practice effort was only two seconds slower than their race time, but that’s without taking into account the time they lost in the crash.
TTTs are chaotic in terms of power output, so Pogačar’s effort was never steady. He barely pedaled when tucked in his teammates’ drafts, but during his pulls he pushed 400-500 watts for up to a minute at a time. The high cadence (100+ rpm) was a theme that we saw throughout Pogačar’s Vuelta.
Pre-race TTT effort:
Avg Power: 319 W
Max Power: 886 W
Avg Speed: 48.9 kph (30.4 mph) Avg Cadence: 100 rpm
TTT Race Effort:
Data lost after crash due to bike change) Time: *up until crash
Avg Power: 347 W
Max Power: 886 W
Avg Speed: 50.3 kph (31.3 mph)
Avg Cadence: 100 rpm
Stage 2 – Benidorm › Calpe (199.6 km)
Nairo Quintana soloed to the win on what turned out to be a major GC day. Many thought that the course profile suited the sprinters, but a closer look revealed the ultra-steep Cat 2 Alto de Puig Llorenca which topped out 27 km from the finish. Until this climb, however, the day was a relaxed one for Pogačar and the GC men. He averaged only 181 W for the 4:13:10 of racing.
The peloton exploded as soon as they hit the base of the climb. For 9:45, Pogačar averaged 392 watts (5.94 W/kg), including a peak 6-minute effort of 413 watts (6.26 W/kg) on the climb’s steepest section. Yet he still ended up in the second group on the road. Pogačar puts in a final sprint to the line, where he puts out a major effort.
Alto de Puig Llorenca: 9:45
Avg Power: 392 W (5.94 W/kg) Avg Gradient: 9.1%
Avg Cadence: 87 rpm
Final Sprint: 0:22
Avg Power: 797 W
Max Power: 969 W
Avg Speed: 48.9 kph (36.4 mph) Max Speed: 69.0 kph (42.9 mph) Avg Cadence: 108 rpm
Full Stage: 5:11:18
Distance: 198 km (127 miles) Elevation Gain: 3177 m (10,423 ft) Avg Speed: 38.1 kph (23.7 mph) Total Work: 3678 kJ
Avg Weighted Power: 245 W
Stage 5 – L’Eliana › Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre (170.7 km)
The GC days came thick and fast at the Vuelta – the next was Stage 5, which finished atop the brutally steep Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre climb. It was an incredible day of two races in one, with Ángel Madrazo taking a come-from-behind victory from the breakaway, and the first summit battle amongst the GC men.
Pogačar wasn’t in his best climbing form on the day, ceding 30 or more seconds to his GC rivals.
The second half of the climb was much steeper than the first, and this is where the strong men attacked. It is interesting to note that, despite the ever- steepening grade, Pogačar maintained a high climbing cadence of around 90 rpm.
Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre: 31:47
Avg Power: 367 W (5.56 W/kg) Avg Gradient: 7.0%
Avg Cadence: 91 rpm
Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre (second half): 16:47
Avg Power: 386 W (5.85 W/kg)
Avg Gradient: 9.7%
Avg Cadence: 89 rpm
Full Stage: 4:58:46
Distance: 169 km (105 miles) Elevation Gain: 3600 m (11,814 ft) Avg Speed: 34.0 kph (21.1 mph) Total Work: 3941 kJ
Avg Weighted Power: 263 W
Stage 7 – Onda › Mas de la Costa (183.2 km)
The 2019 Vuelta boasted several GC stages in its opening week. As if the previous climbs weren’t steep enough, the race organizers decided to put the Mas de la Costa, a 4.1 km climb averaging 12.1 percent, at the conclusion of stage 7.
Pogačar struggled on the final climb, losing time again to Valverde, Quintana, Lopez, and Roglic. He was able to stay with the front group for the first part of the climb (averaging 418 W for the first six minutes), but he could not quite hold the pace, and his power dropped to 380 watts, which he sustained for the rest of the climb. Note: we do not have information of Pogačar’s gearing for the climb, however he held 90 rpm while riding at 9 mph on the super steep climb.
Mas de la Costa: 15:44
Avg Power: 392 W (5.94 W/kg)
Avg Speed: 14.5 kph (9.0 mph)
Avg Gradient: 12.4 percent
Avg Cadence: 86 rpm
Full Stage: 4:35:21
Distance: 182.7 km (113.5 miles) Elevation Gain: 2778 m (9114 ft) Avg Speed: 39.8 kph (24.7 mph) Total Work: 3931 kJ
Avg Weighted Power: 279 W
Stage 9 – Andorra la Vella › Cortals d’Encamp (94.4 km)
In a short epic through the mountains of Andorra, Pogačar took his first-ever Grand Tour stage win. He won after battling for just under three hours in the pouring rain, on slick roads and gravel descents. It was a chaotic stage with attacks from nearly every GC rider, as well as crashes and chilly temperatures. Pogačar, who tipped himself as a rider who likes the rain, made his winning move on the gravel section in the final 15 km of the race.
With less than 100 km to cover, the peloton raced every climb as if it were the last, a statement was is reflected in Pogačar’s incredible power data from the day.
Kilometer 0 to Coll d’Ordino: 39:16
Avg Power: 315 W (4.77 W/kg) Max Power: 1031 W
Avg Speed: 25.9 kph (16.1 mph) Avg Gradient: 4.8%
Avg Cadence: 92 rpm
Coll de la Gallina: 37:50
Avg Power: 365 W (5.53 W/kg) Avg Speed: 18.7 kph (11.6 mph) Avg Gradient: 8.7 percent
Avg Cadence: 91 rpm
*First 8:17 at 403 W
Three-part climb to the finish (Alto de la Comella > Estany d’Engolasters > Cortals d’Encamp): 1:00:11
Avg Power: 324 W (4.91 W/kg)
Max Power: 783 W
Avg Speed: 26.0 kph (16.2 mph) Avg Gradient: 3.0%
Avg Cadence: 91 rpm
Alto de la Comella: 11:20
Avg Power: 387 W (5.86 W/kg) Avg Cadence: 94 rpm
Avg Power: 362 W (5.5 W/kg) Avg Cadence: 91 rpm
Cortals d’Encamp: 16:45
Avg Power: 364 W (5.52 W/kg)
Max Power: 782 W
Avg Cadence: 89 rpm
Full Stage: 3:01:34
Distance: 94.4 km (58.5 miles)
Elevation Gain: 2817 m (9241 ft)
Avg Speed: 30.9 kph (19.2 mph)
Total Work: 3069 kJ
Avg Weighted Power: 325 W (4.92 W/kg)