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SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (VN) — There’s good news coming out of Tirreno-Adriatico this week, at least for anyone racing against him.
Tadej Pogačar says he’s not any stronger than he was last year.
“If I compare to last year, I am pretty similar to last year,” Pogačar said matter of factly Sunday after wrapping up Tirreno-Adriatico for the second consecutive year. “It’s going great so far, I will not complain.”
Of course, that’s also bad news for anyone racing against him.
Last year, the UAE Emirates star was on a tear across the 2021 season, claiming a second yellow jersey, winning four of five stage races he started, and two monuments along the way.
If he is only as good as last year, it’s going to be a very long season for his rivals.
No wonder he’s not complaining.
When asked if had to attack Saturday to secure the Tirreno title on Monte Carvegna was equal to his power output to ride the peloton off his wheel at last year’s Tour de France, that’s when Pogačar said he’s already close to peak form.
“It was not the same, yesterday, like it was in the Tour stage last year,” he said. “My fitness is more or less like it was last year at this time of the year, and I was not far from my Tour de France shape. The numbers are quite good.”
It might appear, however, that Pogačar is indeed very much better this season.
His impressive start to 2022 had tongues wagging all week inside the peloton.
No one could match him at Strade Bianche, and no one could follow him on Monte Carvegna on Saturday to decide the overall.
His team is getting better around him as well, with newcomer Marc Soler riding deep all week to help give Pogačar an extra wheel on the climbs. A strong team will only mean a more impregnable “Fortress Pogačar”, especially in the grand tours.
With three straight wins in 2022, it’s all a stress-free world for Pogačar. He literally shrugged when asked about how he deals with pressure. That says it all.
“Maybe it helps to be more relaxed about everything and not stress too much. This is sure a big plus,” he said. “Sometimes when it’s a big goal, like the UAE Tour or the Tour de France, there is some pressure, but not in a bad way.
“It keeps you even more motivated,” he said. “I don’t stress myself. I don’t put myself under pressure in a bad way.”
Turning his attention to the spring classics
Pogačar is certainly turning the screws to his rivals so far in 2022.
At his season debut at the UAE Tour he had pressure to win for the team owners, and delivered an early prize.
His long-distance, 50km solo breakaway victory at Strade Bianche reminded everyone of Eddy Merckx (even though the race didn’t exist during the Belgian’s career), and his attack Saturday over Monte Carvegna evoked the image of Marco Pantani.
It’s quite obvious, however, that Pogačar is very much his own man, even at the young age of 23.
He carries himself with quiet confidence, but not arrogance. There’s no swagger or bravado, no vendettas or revenge-seeking attacks. Pogačar says he races to win, end of conversation.
“I like to race, and we go to the race for the win, to try to win. The team is working to get the win,” he explained. “If I am the leader for the end, I really want to repay them for all the work. A victory is always nice. Everybody more or less has the same mindset to win.”
There’s still plenty to keep Pogačar interested.
For the next several weeks, he’ll take a deeper dive into the spring classics, with Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders up next, two races that nearly everyone agrees he could win.
“A lot of races are still out there,” Pogačar said. “The Giro and Vuelta, the worlds, the Olympic Games, many more.”
With his unstoppable legs and his unflappable attitude, it’s hard not to imagine him winning them all.