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Pogacar steps into the limelight with Tour de France focus

In just one year Tadej Pogačar has become one of pro cycling's most famous riders. For 2020 Pogačar is focused on the Tour de France.

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Life comes at you fast—just ask Tadej Pogačar.

A year ago Pogačar was preparing for his debut in pro cycling’s WorldTour as a 20-year-old neo pro on UAE-Team Emirates. His racing schedule included the Amgen Tour of California, Volta ao Algarve, and likely a few question marks that would be filled in later by team directors.

Today, Pogačar is on the short list to battle for the Tour de France overall. He is a sports star in his native Slovenia, and a celebrity within the wider cycling world.

In lieu of the whirlwind season, Pogačar told VeloNews he is trying to keep everything in perspective.

“Life has changed but I try to stay the same person as I was,” Pogačar said. “My girlfriend and I just spend time together whenever we can, and we do training together as normal. But a lot of people want you here and there, and you can’t go everywhere, so it’s quite difficult to say no to some things, but you just don’t have all of the time.”

Indeed a quick glance at Pogačar’s social media showcases plenty of photos of him with his girlfriend, pro cyclist Urska Zigart, who also hails from Slovenia. These days the media requests for Pogačar come in daily, putting him in the tight situation that all cycling celebrities must navigate. When do you put a cap on the attention in order to train and live a comfortable life?

“I don’t like [fame] so much, and everybody wants you here and there, but it is part of this, and if you want to promote cycling, we need to do some stuff that we don’t like,” Pogačar said. “Cycling is growing really fast in [Slovenia] and you can see a lot of cyclists on the road, and I think it’s good.”

There’s likely to be plenty more requests for Pogačar in 2020. If 2019 equated to him dipping his toes in pro cycling’s deep end, then 2020 represents him diving in, headfirst. Pogačar’s racing calendar is focused squarely on the Tour de France, where he will battle for the overall victory. Pogačar will then travel to Tokyo to take in the 2020 Olympic road race as his final major test of the year.

Pogačar said he is hardly a favorite to contend for the win in July.

“I don’t think so because it’s still my first Tour de France and it’s quite different from the Vuelta, so I will go there to gain experience,” he said. “If I go good, then yeah, OK, but I will just go there to learn about the Tour.”

Of course Pogačar carried that same attitude into the 2019 Vuelta a España, the race that vaulted him into the sport’s upper echelon of grand tour contenders. Pogačar started slow in the race before seizing control in the second half. He won three stages and vaulted himself into third place overall, briefly challenging for second on the final mountainous road stage, which he won.

Winning stage 9 of the Vuelta a Espana marked a pivotal moment in Pogacar’s career. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Pogačar said it was the race’s ninth stage that changed everything for him. He won the mountainous day into Andorra, and the result vaulted him back into contention for the overall.

“The first week before the Andorra stage I thought I could be there for the top-10 but I didn’t push myself too much, I always just went day-by-day,” he said. “I won on Andorra and said, ‘OK, let’s now try to go for GC’ and then every day got better. It was the perfect scenario.”

Pogačar has his sights set squarely on the Tour de France with a racing program that includes Paris-Nice, Milano-Sanremo, the Ardennes Classics, and the Criterium du Dauphine.

There’s another target on his radar, and it falls in February: The UAE Tour. The punchy race across the desert could be a harbinger of whether Pogačar will flourish for his major goals in the summer.

“I want to be really good in UAE and then all of the races are more about not being at the top,” Pogačar said. “And then I want to raise my form and be in the best possible form in the Tour.”

Look out, Tour de France, here comes Pogačar.