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Tadej Pogačar signals he’s a rainbow jersey contender after beating back Wout van Aert

Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal: Two-time Tour de France winner fires worlds warning shot to beat back rainbow jersey favorite.

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MONTREAL (VN) — Tadej Pogačar signaled to the peloton he will be a rainbow jersey contender after out-kicking the five-star worlds favorite Sunday in a selective race at Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal.

Wout van Aert could only shake his head in frustration as Pogačar kicked to victory at the end of an intense preview of what lies in store in Wollongong in two weeks at the UCI Road World Championship.

“We go with confidence,” Pogačar said of the worlds. “We go tomorrow to Australia. So far the shape looks like it’s coming well together. I hope for a good day in the worlds. It’s a different course than today. It’s a longer race and it’s going to be really hard.”

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Pogačar, who confirmed he will race both the individual time trial and road race in Wollongong, used smart tactics as well as strong legs to beat back van Aert in an elite group of five that extracted themselves on the final lap.

He’ll need both if he hopes to become world road race champion on September 25.

“The race was really hard and the last kilometer was a bit of playing each other,” Pogačar said. “I knew that Wout can do a great sprint, and I wanted to be on his wheel, but he wanted to be on my wheel.

“On the last corner he went around and waited for me to pass,” Pogačar said. “I was still pretty confident, and got a bit lucky because Gaudu went early and I could follow him to get a bit of slip stream. I pushed all the way to the line and hoping that nobody passed me, and it was just an incredible finish.”

Pogačar: ‘When I crossed the line I was in disbelief’

Pogačar celebrates his fourth major one-day race of his career. (Photo: James Startt/GPDQM)

The victory is Pogačar first since finishing second at the Tour de France to Jonas Vingegaard in only his fourth race day since July.

After some recovery time and deciding to skip the Vuelta a España, Pogačar is refocusing the back half of 2022 on the world championship and a title defense at Il Lombardia.

Pogačar kicked to 24th in a shorter, more technical course Friday in Québec.

“I enjoyed a lot in Québec, it was a super nice race, but it was really tricky for me,” he said. “I didn’t have the best legs there, but here in Montreal it’s a bit harder race, and it suited me a bit better.”

Sunday’s longer distance at 221km and longer climbs played more into his hands, and he played it smart to out-kick Van Aert to claim his 44th pro win.

“The group that we were with in the final, it was only the best riders in the world, especially Wout, the green jersey from the Tour de France, and winning every sprint in his season,” Pogačar said. “To beat him and all the riders who were in the front, it was … when I crossed the line I was in disbelief and I was so happy. It was incredible.”

The victory was his fourth one-day win of his career.

All four have been marquee quality, with Montréal, Strade Bianche, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and Il Lombardia.

The worlds looms. Sunday’s performance proves he can beat back the best in a longer, harder race.

And with Wollongong set to be the longest worlds in modern history at 266.9km, the ball is suddenly in Pogačar’s court.