The two-time Tour de France champion finished 18 seconds down on stage winner Stefan Bissegger (EF-Education-Easy-Post) with Tom Dumoulin – third at 14 seconds – the only potential GC rider to finish ahead of Pogacar.
Coming into the race Pogačar’s condition was somewhat of an unknown. He had not raced since winning Il Lombardia in October of last year, and earlier this month his team confirmed that the 23-year-old had contracted a mild case of COVID-19.
The rider was negative and healthy enough to head to the UAE for the defence of his 2021 title and ahead of the all-important stage to Jebel-Jais on stage 4 the Slovenian has an excellent chance of taking the leader’s jersey.
“It was a really fast course and it was a flying pace,” Pogačar said after his first time trial since last year’s World Championships in Belgium.
“You couldn’t go much faster than that. On the way back it was just raw power, and I did my best 10 minutes ever. I’m pretty happy and it was a good time. We’re looking good for tomorrow and the rest days.”
The UAE Team Emirates squad put in a collective show of strength with João Almeida fifth at 22 seconds and Mikkel Berg a further two seconds in arrears.
“Everyone in the team is super good. I’m super happy for Mikel and João who are up there. We’re really good and really focused for this race. We’re all in good shape.”
Pogacar heads into the all-important stage 4 just 18 seconds down on Bissegger with the rider from Switzerland expected to crack on the first summit finish of the race. The danger man could be Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe). The Russian recently won the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and is now eighth overall in the UAE Tour and just seven seconds down on Pogacar.