Tadej Pogačar: The happy kid 'always having fun', riding his favourite toy and eating Big Macs

The Slovenian talks happiness, enjoyment and the future as he wins yellow again

Tadej Pogačar
(Image credit: Getty)

Big Mac and fries, smiles on a bike, and tumbling onto the tarmac because he couldn't clip out of his pedals: it's hard to believe it, but Tadej Pogačar really isn't that different to us all.

On the day he won his second Tour de France in just 10 months, Pogačar and his entire UAE-Team Emirates team drove to Libourne's McDonald's and tucked in for their unhealthiest meal of the three weeks. 

Just over a decade previously, he was just a happy kid riding his bike and having fun. And a decade on from a decade previously, he's exactly the same: just a happy kid riding his bike and opting for a Big Mac over a Happy Meal.

He's an endearing Tour de France winner, is Tadej. "I am still pretty young and I enjoy my life," the 22-year-old tells the press as he all-but secured yellow jersey number two, and just half an hour before he ordered a big greasy burger.

"If we don't have fun in what we do, it wouldn't be great. Just having fun is easier for me."

Pogačar's stranglehold on the 2021 edition began when he avoided big crashes on stages one and three, and then he cemented his authority with a stage five time trial win, made massive gains in the Alps and then consolidated them with back-to-back victories in the Pyrenees. His final winning margin in Paris will be 5-20.

What's it like being so utterly dominant? "For me it's similar to when I was playing games or sport with my brother or friends when I was a kid," he reveals, nonchalantly disregarding the enormity of winning the world's biggest bike race once more.

"Always I try to win and always I have fun and I am enjoying the sport, the battle between each other. Even if I lose sometimes, I accept it. If you are sad about it or if you're angry, it doesn't make any change.

"I always try to ride enjoying it and being happy on my bike because it's a really beautiful sport."

Even the recollection of crashing on his first road bike, a soft green aluminium Billato Italian bike, brings a smile. When he first rode it, it was so high for him his feet could barely the touch the floor. "The first training," he begins, "I crashed because I didn't know how to unclip.

"I've had some great memories. I trained a lot with my brother on local roads, a few kilometres from home, doing laps, full gas every day. It's a nice memory."

Another nice memory is how he's won this Tour. "My favourite moment was the win on the Col du Portet," he says. 

He looked as if he was riding on easy-speed in the third week, not wanting and not needing to increase his advantage. He disagrees when asked if he could have won by more.

"I don't think so. I did my maximum in this Tour. In the Pyrenees I was super-happy to take two wins, but if I'm honest I tried to go sooner [attack] but I couldn't.

"In the end it was enough for stage wins and I was super-happy about it. I did my best, my maximum, how i always do. That's it."

Pogačar is so relaxed, so kid-like, so at ease, that when he's asked if he is the leader of the peloton, it seems an incredulous claim to make, and not just because he looks as if he has just entered his first teenage years.

But then you remember he's a serial winner. Eddy Merckx was, too. And Bernard Hinault. Here is a generational talent that could eclipse everything that came before.

"I don't consider myself a boss," he responds to the question. "I don't like comparisons because every rider is unique and has their own personality and everything.

"Right now, I don't think about records. I just enjoy the moment. For sure I want to go to the Giro and Vuelta again... [but] for now I am still relaxed, I will enjoy Paris tomorrow, the Olympics and then see where the path takes me."

HIs win this time around is so very different to last September when he spectacularly leapfrogged his countryman Primož Roglič in the final time trial. "I think it's more enjoyable this year because nobody expected it last year, not even myself. I didn't expect to win at all. 

"I was super happy with second place and there was really a lot of emotions going left and right after the TT last year. But this year I can enjoy the moment."

Pogačar will fly to Tokyo after the culmination of the Tour and will be one of the favourites to win Olympic gold next Saturday in the road race. 

The timing isn't the best because, just like last year due to Covid-19 restrictions, he won't be able to fully celebrate his Tour win.

A shrug-of-the-shoulders. What will be, and all that. "After the Olympics I hope to find some quiet time, some peace and to chill out," he says.

It's hard to imagine Pogačar taking a break from his favourite toy, for the bicycle gives him such happiness. He's got an eye on the future, but when you have the fearlessness and confidence that he has, there's no need to fret about what comes next.

He mentions winning the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, and the odd one-day race. "I want to experience it all, give my best in every race," he beams.

"I'm not setting any particular goals for the future," he finishes. "I just try to be the same."

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Chris Marshall-Bell

Chris first started writing for Cycling Weekly in 2013 on work experience and has since become a regular name in the magazine and on the website. Reporting from races, long interviews with riders from the peloton and riding features drive his love of writing about all things two wheels.

Probably a bit too obsessed with mountains, he was previously found playing and guiding in the Canadian Rockies, and now mostly lives in the Val d’Aran in the Spanish Pyrenees where he’s a ski instructor in the winter and cycling guide in the summer. He almost certainly holds the record for the most number of interviews conducted from snowy mountains.