There’s a lot of hype building around Tadej Pogačar, and it’s for good reason.
The 21-year-old Slovenian barnstormed through his rookie season in an impressive manner, capped by winning three stages and hitting the podium at the Vuelta a España. There was no hint of a sophomore jinx when he opened up 2020 with victory at the Volta a la Comunidad Valenciana and second in the truncated UAE Tour.
He’s fast, he’s dashing and he has that rare, winning touch. Who does he remind me of? A Peter Sagan who can climb.
Right now, Pogačar is not nearly as naturally flamboyant or the innate showman that Sagan is, but the Slovenian has all the racing acumen that immediately blasts him into the elite of the peloton.
Many have wondered how far Sagan could have gone if he had tried to remake himself into a grand tour rider. Luckily, he never bought into the temptation, and remained true to his aggressive, one-day gladiator style of racing that’s thrilled fans for nearly a decade.
Even more than Egan Bernal, Pogačar is the most exciting stage racer to come along in the past decade. He’s more Sagan in style than the staid, controlled manner of racing that it takes to win grand tours.
At nearly 10 years younger than Sagan, Pogačar created the same kind of buzz in his rookie season as Sagan did. People still talk about how Sagan attacked in his very first pro race in 2010 in Australia and later spiced up Paris-Nice a few months later. Sagan’s legend took root during his rookie season, and he’s been growing in the public’s eye ever since.
Pogačar is already on a similar trajectory, but he’s obviously a very different kind of rider. Sagan is all brawn and bravado, Pogačar is instinctively more low-key, at least off the bike, but with the same nose for the finish line.
Last year, I had a chance to speak to Pogačar at his pro debut at the Santos Tour Down Under. He was quiet, polite, and understated, but there was a glint in his eye that’s the undeniable mark of a champion. He finished 13th overall in Australia, and quickly followed that up with a stage win and the overall at the Volta ao Algarve, one of those races that typically sees big names on the winner’s list. Pogačar cut through the final edition of the Amgen Tour of California like a hot knife through butter, before busting up the Vuelta, nearly snatching away second place overall podium spot on the final climbing stage.
Along with Bernal and Remco Evenepoel, Pogačar is that rare young rider that longtime insiders get excited about. Ask any sport director or team manager inside the team pits who is the rider they think will be a force, and they all agree that Pogačar has all the ingredients to be a big winner.
To put it simply, Pogačar will light up the mountains this summer at the Tour de France the same way that Sagan dominates the sprints and the hunt for the green jersey.
And on this unique Tour route that’s packed with explosive climbs from start to finish, Pogačar will start his first Tour more than a podium outsider. The 2017 Tour de l’Avenir champ could come up a winner if the top teams are not careful.
All Pogačar needs to do now to fully emulate Sagan is starting popping wheelies as he crosses the Champs-Élysées as winner of the yellow jersey, perhaps as soon as this summer.