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Tirreno-Adriatico: Evenepoel defends podium after Pogačar punch

Tadej Pogačar on Belgian rival in uphill faceoff: ‘Sometimes he tried too hard.’

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BELLANTE, Italy (VN) — Remco Evenepoel ended a stinging uphill duel against Tadej Pogačar in stage 4 at Tirreno-Adriatico in exactly the same GC position that he started — in second place.

Pogačar dashed clear of a mish-mash of top riders to snatch victory and bounce into the overall lead, pushing overnight leader Filippo Ganna into third.

All eyes were on Pogačar and Evenepoel, and the Slovenian got some back against the Belgian star.

“Some riders ahead of me left a small gap which I had to close. Before I managed to do that, Pogačar was gone,” Evenepoel said at the line. “I have no regrets. I’m still second in GC, which is good.”

Also read: Evenepoel under attack: ‘I did not panic’

Tirreno-Adriatico is the first time Pogačar and Evenepoel have faced off in a stage race since both skyrocketed to success across the peloton.

Pogačar said Evenepoel seemed over-anxious to light up the stage Thursday. Evenepoel tried to light up the race early, and Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl had riders piling on to split the bunch.

Evenepoel went too early, allowing Pogačar to save his matches.

“He was also strong in the final climb, but I think sometimes he tried too hard, and spent too much energy, like the first time we went,” Pogačar said. “He really wanted to go, and I knew there was no chance because I got the information from behind that it’s full-gas in the chase. Maybe he spent too much in the race, but he is a super rider.”

Evenepoel got the first advantage in Monday’s opening time trial, and Pogačar’s been nipping away at the edges ever since then.

After two straight stages of taking back a few seconds in mid-race time bonuses, Pogačar pounced with 600m to go in the steep uphill finale to gap the chasers by two seconds.

Defending the podium — mission accomplished

Add the winner’s time bonus, and Pogačar tipped into the leader’s jersey, with Evenepoel still in second, now nine seconds back. Ganna fell to third at 21 seconds back, with Jonas Vingegaarad (Jumbo-Visma) keeping things interesting by finishing second in the stage and bounding into podium range, now sixth at 45 seconds back.

For Evenepoel, it was mission accomplished on the short, explosive climb.

“Yes, I am happy with the result,” Evenepoel said. “In the final climb, I found out that I am not as punchy as some other guys. It went super fast. Pogacar controlled the situation and deserved the win.”

Evenepoel isn’t reading too much in Thursday’s explosive finale.

Friday’s and Saturday’s stages present longer, more sustained climbs where he hopes to solidify his position at the top of the GC.

“I was around sixth position in the final climb, which was pretty OK,” he said. “I said before the race I wanted to be on the podium so I am on schedule. The next two stages suit me better. It has been a good first test.”

Evenepoel opened his 2022 season on a tear, with second overall at the Volta a Valenciana and victory at the Volta ao Algarve.

He seems to be setting a realistic goal in his first clash with Pogačar — stay close and see what happens.