The Tour de France champion saw a rare bobble when he and his UAE Emirates teammates were caught out in an ambush in the Basque hills in the final stage that opened the door for arch-rival Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) to get one back.
“If we could do something different, for sure we would not like to be far back on the top of the climb before the descent,” Pogačar said Tuesday. “In the moment, when the race is full-gas, and riders are everywhere, it’s a hard race. You don’t think then as you do looking back a week after.”
- Is the peloton entering the age of Slovenian domination?
- Did Jumbo-Visma boss it, or did UAE blow it?
In what was the first major showdown between the two Slovenia superstars in 2021, Pogačar and his teammates were caught out on the wrong side of a split in an early climb.
That torpedoed any hope of American talent Brandon McNulty from defending the leader’s jersey, and undercut Pogačar’s chances of marking Roglič and possibly winning.
Jumbo-Visma executed a near-perfect final stage, with Roglič following an early split, and then finding allies on the road to help drive the wedge. Teammate Jonas Vingegaard marked Pogačar and hung on for second overall.
In contrast, UAE-Team Emirates were caught out a little flat-footed, and missed a decisive split coming down an early climb early in the final stage. Despite a frantic chase, Pogačar and teammate McNulty were isolated without teammates in the key moment.
McNulty, the second-year pro who started the stage with a slender lead to Roglič, could not quite close the gap despite clawing back within 20 seconds of the front group.
Pogačar finally chased alone, but there was not enough cohesion in a chasing group until it was too late. Roglič secured the overall victory, while Pogačar battled hard to salvage third.
“We gave the chance to Brandon, but we had hoped to go over the steep climb altogether,” Pogačar told VeloNews and other media in a call. “The race was completely different, and we were not ready for that at the moment.”
In what was one of the most tactical finales in quite some time, the two teams provided a thrilling preview of what lies in store later this summer at the Tour de France rematch.
“Otherwise, it was a good race for us and it was a good result for me, so it was not that bad after all,” he said.
Pogačar did not seem too upset about the final result — third with a stage win at a race as challenging as Itzulia is impressive by any measure — and pedals into the Ardennes weekend with eyes on a different prize.
Tadej Pogačar firmly committed to one-day racing
Pogačar is committed to racing the Ardennes as he spreads his wings to larger goals beyond the Tour de France.
Over the past generation or so, especially as the calendar has become busier and GC contenders are more selective in their respective schedules, it was rare to see a Tour de France defending champion race many one-day races.
Pogačar insists that the one-day races will be firmly part of his future.
“I’ve said before, I really like one-day races, from Ardennes classics to Italian classics,” he said Tuesday in a video call. “I really enjoy it. It’s a different style of racing than stage racing, a different rhythm. I hope maybe one day I can win some of them.”