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Tirreno-Adriatico: Tadej Pogačar in league of his own on ‘Pantani climb’

Barely a week after blazing to victory at Strade Bianche, Pogačar powers away from peloton in a way that evokes the Italian climber.

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CARPEGNA, Italy (VN) – Tadej Pogačar wasn’t even born when Marco Pantani won the Tour de France in 1998.

At Tirreno-Adriatico on Saturday, he raced like “the Pirate” with an untouchable attack on one of Pantani’s favorite training climbs to put another exclamation point on his ever-growing palmarès.

Pogačar blasted away on Pantani’s training climb at racing speed, leaving everyone shaking their heads in dismay in his wake, and the peloton wondering if Pogačar is now in a league of his own.

“There were a lot of things to remind us of Pantani today,” Pogačar said. “I was just born when he won the Tour de France, so I really didn’t follow him because I was too young. Today was quite special and it’s nice that fans bring the moments of the history back.”

UAE Emirates left nothing to chance in two passages up the HC Monte Carpegna climb where Pantani used to train on during his racing heyday.

Racing with determined efficiency, Pogačar gapped everyone, and raced alone as if the group was closer than the one-minute gap. He didn’t want to take any chances on a technical final descent and powered home with a spectacular stage victory that comes just one week after the dust settled on his stunning solo stampede at Strade Bianche.

Also read: Riders raise alarm about dangerous descent at Tirreno-Adriatico

Just about everyone says Pogačar is unbeatable, but he disagrees.

“I never think I am unbeatable,” Pogačar said. “I am always thinking someone can come back, I don’t underestimate anybody. I always want to focus on myself and go full-gas when I can.”

Pogačar powered away from an elite quartet that included Jonas Vingegaard, Mikkel Landa and Enric Mas. Missing was second-place starter Remco Evenepoel, who faded on the first of two passages over the HC Monte Carpegna climb.

Fans hold up a banner in homage to Pantani. (Photo: James Startt/VeloNews)

Jonas Vingegaard: ‘I didn’t even think about trying to go with him’

When Pogačar jumped, the others could only watch.

“I was already on the limit,” said Vingegaard, the only rider who could stay close to Pogačar at last year’s Tour. “I didn’t even think about trying to go with him when he attacked. He is just incredible today and so much better than everyone else.”

In what’s a growing list of knock-out performances, Pogačar blasted to victory on the same day that arch-rival and compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) won at Paris-Nice to take control on the other side of the Alps.

The Slovenian duo seem fated to face off again this summer at the Tour de France, where Pogačar is the hot favorite to win a third straight yellow jersey, and Roglič is seen by many as the only rider who might be able to give him a hard time.

Saturday’s exhibition counted for his 36th pro victory, with three-quarters of them at the WorldTour level. With the overall all but in the bag for Sunday’s sprint parade, Pogačar looks unstoppable coming into 2022.

Pogačar also knows who butters his bread, and was quick to thank his teammates.

“It was cold and long, I am super-happy to take the win because of all the hard work of the team,” he said. “It’s not easy to do 200km on the front, and I super-happy to take the win and repay them for all the work.”

Also read: Throwback Thursday — Marco Pantani and judging his legacy

On Saturday, local fans held signs for both Pantani and Pogačar, and lined the climb to cheer on today’s peloton while remembering the riders of the past.

Pantani won the Tour in 1998, just weeks before Pogačar was born. Like many of Pogačar’s generation, riders like Pantani seem like the faraway, black-and-white images of riders like Coppi and Bartali were to the riders of the 1990s.

Pogačar is bossing the climbs just in the same way Pantani did before he began his long slide into controversy and eventually his untimely death in 2004. Many are hopeful that the scandals and abuse of the Pantani era also seem just as far away for the Pogačar generation.

With one stage left to go, Pogačar looks likely to win every race he’s started in 2022, taking the overall at the UAE Tour and Strade Bianche, and Tirreno-Adriatico looking certain unless he has some very bad luck Sunday.

Not even Pantani was that good.

Fans cheer on the riders Saturday on ‘Pantani’s climb.’ (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)