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Tadej Pogačar wants to go far, and he’s going to get there without taking shortcuts.
Pogačar was the male rider of the 2021 season, harvesting a handful of stage race wins, a pair of monuments and a second Tour de France title.
With the route of the 2022 Tour being revealed this week, the 23-year-old’s mind has turned to the new year and new goals. But first things first, he wants to set the record straight.
When Pogačar crushed this summer’s Tour with a series of sledgehammer blows, the inevitable questions around his performance followed soon afterward. Some three months later, they haven’t gone away – and Pogačar hasn’t changed his answer.
“I understand the situation and I know where my sport comes from. But I will not tire of saying that I see cycling is on the right track to regain the faith of the fans,” Pogačar told Spanish outlet AS from the Tour route presentation this week.
“And I speak for myself – I’m a good boy who doesn’t take shortcuts. I hope that the public will trust my performance and my record.”
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Pogačar’s performance through the Alps this summer and the background of some staff within his UAE Emirates team led to the inevitable difficult questions from the media corps at the Tour.
Pogačar pointed to his clean test results as more-than-enough proof, and the questioning slowly died away.
— Il Lombardia (@Il_Lombardia) October 9, 2021
Pogačar was back to his dominant ways less than three months after he was batting away accusations in France, closing out his season in style with a powerful victory at Il Lombardia last weekend.
After also winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège this spring, the Slovenian star became the first rider since Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx to score two monuments and the Tour in one year.
Merckx promptly heaped praise on the man many are heralding his successor, saying “Pogačar can do better than me.”
The kudos piled upon him by “The Cannibal” put Pogačar in two minds – and keen to deflect any further accusations that may come with the comparison.
“Ufff… [his words] give me the creeps and they make me proud,” Pogačar said. “If someone like him, who is unanimously listed as the greatest ever, expresses himself that way about you … I ride hungry, like Eddy in his time, and I will do so responsibly and honored by his words.”
More classics, more Merckxian
Whether Pogačar likes it or not, the comparison to Merckx and the Belgian’s legendary ability to devour a whole range of races and rivals almost at will is valid.
Winning Lombardia earlier this month has given Pogačar a hunger for more classics racing. Like Merckx, Pogačar doesn’t want to be tied to racing only over three weeks.
“As a kid, I competed at the Piccolo Lombardía and finished seventh. From then, and from other one-day tests, I know I can do well in these types of races,” Pogačar said.
“In stage races, I do my best every day, but I love the classics. It is a different style of looking for victories, you never know what may happen, from one year to the next or with different routes. Perhaps strength and instinct count more, in the three weeks recovery and equipment matter more. I still have to learn … although that motivates me.”
Grand tour double in 2022?
Pogačar is a dead-cert for the 2022 Tour now he’s seen a parcours that ticked all the right boxes to suit his strengths on the road.
The big mystery is what he will slot in around the Tour de France next year. With only three WorldTour seasons in his legs, Pogačar is keen to stretch his ambitions and race schedule far.
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) October 14, 2021
After blazing to third in his grand tour debut at the 2019 Vuelta a España, there’s still a big Giro d’Italia-shaped hole in Pogačar’s palmarès – but his focus on the Tour means it may have to wait some time.
Also read: Has ASO Pogačar-proofed the Tour?
The Giro-Tour double has undone many recent grand tour riders and Pogačar doesn’t want to be the next.
“Of the big three, I fix that the Tour will be included in my program,” Pogačar said. “For 2021 we planned La Vuelta, although finally, I ended up very fatigued from the Tour and the Olympics. Who knows if in 2022 we will fulfill it. I’d find it easier to double the Tour and Vuelta than the Giro and Tour.
“The Giro demands a lot and can drain you. I intend to return to Spain and discover Italy, but the Tour will mean the central point of my preparation.”
Although Pogačar doesn’t yet know his program for 2022, his attitude will remain the same.
Keep winning, keep having fun – and do it without shortcuts.
“Every time I put on a bib I only think about offering my 100 percent, even if I am not at my best,” he said. “I take my sport seriously, I want to be competitive and always win, although it is not normal to always win.”