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The Slovenian superstar will be on the favorite’s list Sunday in the elite men’s road race, but he won’t be carrying the same weight or expectations as the Belgians or Dutch in the long, seven-hour race.
With the Slovenian team starting without such powerful riders as Primož Roglič, Matej Mohorič or Luka Mezgec, Pogačar said it’s not up to the Slovenians to control the race.
Pogačar hopes to use that to his advantage Sunday.
“We are down to six guys already, so Belgian, the Netherlands, France, Italy, they all have more guys than us and have strong teams, so maybe the pressure is on them,” Pogačar said Thursday. “We still think we are one of the strongest teams here. We can do battle against the bigger teams.”
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Pogačar can mark wheels, follow the flow, and then try to disrupt the favorites in the closing laps on Wollongong’s challenging circuit.
If Pogačar is there at the end of the long race, he will be ready to pounce.
“That’s the perfect scenario,” he said in a press conference. “We all think about the gold medal. The perfect result comes from a perfect day. I think we are capable of doing big things, so it will be an interesting race.”
Pogačar dreaming of the rainbow jersey
Pogačar proved he’s in top worlds form with a stunning victory at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal before traveling to Australia.
A solid sixth in the elite men’s time trial Sunday is another confirmation that Pogačar is trending upward toward this weekend.
No stranger to monument-distance racing, Pogačar already counts Il Lombardia and Liège-Bastogne-Liège on his palmares.
“I already won Lombardia and Liege, now I have a chance to win worlds,” he said. “I am not changing anything.”
After winning two yellow jerseys and several other big-time races, the rainbow jersey is one milestone that Pogačar rates highly.
“When I was a junior and U23, the worlds was a big deal but I never realized how important it is,” Pogačar said. “When I did my first elite worlds in Yorkshire, then I saw how special it is.
“Since then, I want to do it every year,” he said. “And try to do something special.”
The worlds is a different kind of race, contested on finishing circuits and raced between national federations, not trade teams.
Wollongong’s lumpy course is challenging, but it doesn’t feature the longer, steeper climbs where Pogačar typically does his damage. It does, however, pack in a lot of accumulated climbing meters and a monument-long distance of 266.9km.
Pogačar knows he will have to race a very different kind of strategy than he’s accustomed to in blitzing grand tours or more explosive races like Strade Bianche.
“The course is super-hard, and already before the laps there is a hard climb, so the legs will already be tired,” he said. “There is no moment to rest on the final laps. After 250km, the legs will be tired. It’s going to be a long race when, one by one, there will be less people there in the end.”
Racing for Slovenia
The harder the better for Pogačar.
He will be counting on Jan Tratnik and others on the six-rider Slovenian team as the nation races to win its first elite men’s world road title.
Slovenia could have brought an even stronger team to Wollongong, but Mohorič is out with illness, while Roglič and Mezgec are both recovering from injury.
“We don’t have three guys here, but we are here and we will try to do the best,” Tratnik said. “It’s really important to look at those attacks on the final laps so that a big group does not go out, and we are represented in these breakaways. In the end, when it comes together, we will help Tadej to go with the best.”
National team coach Uros Murn said the length and difficulty will play into the team’s hands.
“We have a good vibe on the team, and I think we can do something,” he said. “We had a good look at the final loop, and it will be a really hard race, because it’s really long.
“This is to our advantage because we have an experienced team,” he said. “For us it’s a better race after 250km. The finish will be a few guys in the front, because we have a good team for this hard final. I think we can do something special.”
Not waiting on Wout
In an earlier interview, Pogačar admitted it will be tough to try to drop the likes of Wout van Aert or Mathieu van der Poel on the circuit course. With the accumulation of altitude and distance, the worlds is typically a race of attrition.
“I think the course is well for them, for this kind of riders, they have such great power at the end of the races that you have to match,” Pogačar said of his Benelux rivals. “It’s a long, hard race. In the end, it will be a race of attrition and tired legs. We will see what will happen in the race.”
Pogačar said the rainbow jersey dream is burning hot, and he’s determined to try to bring home the world title.
“We need to do our own thing,” Pogačar said. “We will look at ourselves more than the others, and we will try to do our race.”
Instead of bending the race to his will, he also admits he will have to be more tactical and cunning to outwit the likes of Van Aert and Van der Poel on favorable terrain for the classics-style riders.
To win, he knows everything needs to go his way.