He’s coming in hot into this season, with victories in the first three races he’s started. After blasting to victory at Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico, everyone is wondering, who can beat this guy?
The peloton is clearly in the middle of a new era. Pogačar is the one rider who can turn the race to his desire whenever he wants.
He proved at Strade Bianche and Tirreno that he has the legs to drop the entire peloton. His victory last week at Tirreno confirmed he’s as aggressive as ever, by chasing time bonuses and then going on the rampage to drop the world’s best climbers.
The big buzz was — how can anyone beat this guy?
But there was a lot more happening last week than the “Pogačar Show.”
Climbers, sprinters, and all-rounders were blowing out the cobwebs in one of Europe’s first major stage races.
Ineos Grenadiers proved it’s not going to take Pogačar’s rise sitting down. Though Richard Carapaz and Tao Geoghegan-Hart both abandoned due to illness, Richie Porte rode superbly to finish fourth overall.
Mikel Landa and Jonas Vingegaard both hit the podium in what were confidence-boosting rides against their Slovenian nemesis.
And a host of young sprinters — including Kaden Groves (Team BikeExchange-Jayco) and Olav Kooij (Jumbo-Visma) — each came close to breakout victories.
There was plenty to talk about all week long. Here are the key takeaways from Tirreno-Adriatico:
Filippo Ganna — King of the clock, or more?
Filippo Ganna reconfirmed his credentials as the peloton’s best time trialist.
In four tests against the clock this year, he’s won three. And the one he didn’t win — at the UAE Tour — he was seven seconds slower on a 9km course.
Ganna blasted to victory in the opening stage to also claim the blue leader’s jersey, which he held until Pogačar finally hoisted it away in stage 4.
The big question coming out of Italy: Is Ganna capable of doing more than smashing the clock? He’s already proven he can win the occasional breakaway stage and he’s going to be a massive motor for both sprint trains as well as part of GC efforts.
The one clear comparison to Ganna is Fabian Cancellara. The Italian media hype machine clicked into gear last week, with some suggesting he could evolve into a classics specialist in the same ilk of Cancellara.
Early hit-outs on the pavé haven’t been super, but the COVID calendar and the postponed Tokyo Olympic Games, where he won gold as part of the team pursuit, means his classics schedule will ramp up this spring.
Ganna has the motor and at 25, age is on his side. Let’s watch.
Peter Sagan sees another setback
Tough luck for Peter Sagan, who saw yet another health issue knock him out of Tirreno-Adriatico.
The Slovakian superstar already has battled through two COVID infections and he was caught up in an early crash that took him out of the 2021 Tour de France.
At 32, some are starting to wonder if the inevitable toll of time, crashes, and health issues will come home to roost. Sagan remains confident that once he’s healthy and back in a groove he can still be a player.
Sagan dashed to his best result of 2022 in stage 2 at Tirreno-Adriatico with fourth, but he did not start the next day. Management cited stomach problems and said it was not another flare-up of COVID.
Any missed racing or training right now can prove decisive for the run into the classics. One rider told VeloNews that it’s almost impossible to chase back to winning form this close to the classics.
Officials confirmed to VeloNews he will race Milano-Torino on Wednesday and San Remo on Sunday. It’s about winning, but also chasing kilometers. Sagan needs to catch up, and fast.
Time will tell over the next few weeks. Sagan is Sagan, after all, and will be doubly motivated to prove everyone wrong that he’s not done yet.
Caleb Ewan confirms he’s a top favorite for Milan-San Remo
Caleb Ewan kicked to his third win in 2022 to telegraph to everyone he’s the man to beat at Milan-San Remo.
If, and it’s a big question, the race ends in a traditional bunch sprint.
Ewan’s twice finished second down the Via Roma, proving the has the motor and the downhill chops to get up and down the Poggio and still pack a kick.
Ewan looks stronger and more confident so far in 2022. His first major goal comes next weekend. Anything short of victory will be a disappointment.
After leaving Tirreno early, he went home to Monaco for a few days to recover and then trained up and down the Italian Riviera a few times to refresh the mind on how the Cipressa and Poggio look, before heading to Milan on Thursday.
“I don’t go there too often, but I know the climbs quite well,” he said of the San Remo finale. “I’ve lived in Monaco now eight years, so I’ve done them a lot of times. They’re not my everyday training days.
“Race speed is a lot faster and a lot harder, so so long as you know the roads and the descents, that’s the key.”
Remco Evenepoel not quite there yet
Remco Evenepoel was doing his level best to hang with Pogačar, but faltered when the roads went very the opposite of level.
In what was their first time racing against each other in a stage race since they turned pro, all eyes were on Evenepoel and if he could match Pogačar on the climbs.
Evenepoel got the first advantage, taking some seconds out of Pogačar in the opening time trial. Pogačar started pitching away, and nudged ahead with time bonuses.
The big challenge came on Monte Carvegna, and it wasn’t only Pogačar who wanted to get rid of Evenepoel. Other teams piled on, with Bahrain Victorious attacking on the first of two passages that sent Evenepoel out the back.
Also read: Remco not good enough in key climb
The budding Belgian star seemed to take it all in stride. He’s more mature and never made outlandish comments at the start of the week about beating Pogačar. In fact, his stated goal was to finish on the podium, and though he came up short with 11th, he never had any visions of dropping Pogačar this week.
Evenepoel admitted he didn’t have the power to even come close. To stay close to Pogačar, Evenepoel will need to lose more weight and work harder on his climber.
But will that cause him to lose his power in the time trials and short, punchy finales that suit him so well? That’s a quandary that countless riders have faced.
“It wasn’t the drama like I had in the Giro last year, I could still keep my rhythm. But to race for the victory I needed 30 or 40 watts more on the climbs. On a day where you’re not 100 percent, you can’t just push through that.”
US Gen Z rising up
On both sides of the Alpes, a new generation of Americans were pushing into the frame. At Paris-Nice, Brandon McNulty continued his spectacular spring, winning a stage to make up for his flushed GC aspiration.
At Tirreno-Adriatico, Quinn Simmons came off a spectacular Strade Bianche to ride deep into stage 4 in an all-or-nothing bid for victory. He was reeled in as Pogačar took the flowers, but he won the green climber’s jersey as a consolation.
Also read: Quinn Simmons lights up white roads
A steeper challenge came at Monte Carvegna on Saturday, and Simmons needed to ride into the day’s break, fend off world champion Julian Alaphilippe, and then make it up the first of two passages before the GC riders came through.
It was mission accomplished for Simmons, who races next at the classics.
Here’s what he said when he heard McNulty won in Paris-Nice the same day he snatched the best climber’s jersey:
“That’s good news. McNulty’s had a great season so far, it’s his third win. He’s won, Magnus Sheffield has won, Neilson won San Seb last year,” Simmons said. “The last time we had American riding at this level was with [U.S.] Postal.”