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Tadej Pogačar will be riding his first-ever Tour of Flanders this spring with a yellow jersey in his mind.
The double Tour de France champion isn’t expecting much from his senior debut at Flanders this April, but he’s not ruling anything out either.
“I probably won’t be the leader, it’s my first Tour of Flanders ever,” Pogačar told a media group from a pre-season camp Monday. “We have riders for the classics, like [Matteo] Trentin and others. So I’m just there to observe, to get some experience and try my best and be good for the team.”
“For sure, if I can find myself with a good opportunity I can grab it, but I don’t expect anything from myself,” he continued. “I just want to do my best for the team and to get experience.”
Pogačar raced to 15th place when he took on the junior Ronde in 2018. Since then, the monument-crushing, Tour champion has had little exposure to hurly-burly of racing on cobbles. But the inclusion of some 19 kilometers of pavé in stage 5 of this year’s Tour makes a return to preview the stoney stuff before the Tour an essential.
Many Tour contenders have seen their yellow jersey dreams killed off by cobblestone crashes, and Pogačar doesn’t intend to be its latest victim.
“Flanders – it’s one of the biggest races. It’s a new challenge for me, and for sure it will help for the Tour de France cobbles stage to get an idea of the roads, of the cobbles,” Pogačar said. “Then I can do recon for the Tour stage after Flanders. A lot of it [riding cobbles] comes with experience.”
No Paris-Roubaix … for now
Pogačar bagged both Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia in his sizzling 2021 season.
After also placing 12th in his Milano-Sanremo debut two years ago, some think Pogačar could be one of the rare breed of racers, like Eddy Merckx, that are capable of winning all five of the sport’s prestigious monuments.
The 23-year-old won’t be riding Paris-Roubaix this season, but it’s certainly something on his to-do list as he continues to indulge his love for all things racing.
“This year I will do four monuments, that doesn’t mean I’m focusing to win all of them,” he said. “But in the future, I would like to try all five, also Paris-Roubaix. But not in the near future … but one day.”
‘The shape is where I want it to be’
Pogačar’s season will trace from a curtain-raising ride at the UAE Tour all the way through to Il Lombardia in the fall. Sanremo, Flanders, a Tour title defense, and a return to the Vuelta will provide a series of high points in between.
Anticipation is building ahead of Pogačar’s fourth season with his UAE-Emirates team after he crushed the Strava “King of the Mountains” this weekend on the notorious Spanish Coll de Rates climb regularly used by WorldTour for test efforts.
The 23-year-old leads a squad reinforced by a swathe of top climbing talent and believes he’s still yet to find a ceiling on his already peerless form.
“For me, I’m feeling pretty good right now,” Pogačar said. “The shape is where I want it to be for January if I want to be good in UAE Tour, so I’m pretty happy.”
“Every year, there’s less progress, but that doesn’t mean there’s less motivation. I still want to improve every year, but I know it’s impossible to improve every year. For now, I am still improving every year and that’s my motivation for the next years.
“You never know when you stop pushing more watts than previously.”
From the Rates to De Ronde, expect nothing but excellence – and perhaps the unexpected – from Pogačar in 2022.