Next year's Tour de France is going to be very different. No, not because it starts in Italy and ends in Nice, not Paris, but because Tadej Pogačar will not be in the white jersey. Not at all. Not at any point.
That's right, this year's race was the last time that the Slovenian was eligible for the young rider's competition, a classification he has dominated since turning up at the race and winning the whole thing for the first time, in 2020, and therefore getting the white jersey by default.
Pogačar turned 25 on Thursday, meaning that he is no longer officially a "young rider" in the eyes of professional cycling.
From January 1 next year, the UAE Emirates rider will compete solely with the bigger boys. Time inexorably marches on.
Perhaps it's because of the pandemic's affect on time, but it seems wild that the Slovenian is already 25, and no longer young. What happened to those years? Well, the UK has had three prime ministers but still the same government, and Pogačar has gone from pro eight wins pre-2020 to 62 now.
He was not the first young rider to be so dominant, but he did herald the current age of the upstart youth more than anyone else, through the sheer force of his domination. Egan Bernal was the first, winning the Tour at 22 in 2019, but Pogačar really stepped up the game, paved the way for the likes of Remco Evenepoel and Juan Ayuso to continue the epoch of whippersnappers.
It seems likely that he'll go down in history as the most dominant rider ever in the young rider's category. In the 22 elite stage races Pogačar has competed in, he won the youth classification in 18 of them, including four Tours de France and one Vuelta a España.
Evenepoel has 11 from 21, and has three more years to break the record, but Pogačar and the white jersey seem more inescapably linked, and that is probably because of the Tour. Think how many times Pogačar has been there on the podium, taking the prize from French eyewear company and jeersey sponsor Krys yet one more time. It has been endless.
It is at the Tour where his dominance in the competition is most clear, but his first Grand Tour white jersey came in 2019 at the Vuelta, where he announced himself to the world with three stage wins. For all the increased competition around now from other young riders, no one has quite done it like Pogačar.
He spent 75 days in control of the white jersey competition at the Tour from his debut to his last eligible attempt, including the entirety of the 2021, 2022 and 2023 races. Since he claimed his first taste of the maillot blanc post-stage four of the 2020 Tour, only Bernal's brief six days in white at the same race has seen him out of the lead of the competition.
It might as well have been the maillot Pogačar such is the ease with which he has slipped back into the jersey every year. In 2020, he won the competition by 6-07 over Enric Mas, in 2021 by 5-20 over Jonas Vingegaard, in 2022 by a massive 58-32 over Tom Pidcock, and this year by 5-48 over Carlos Rodríguez. These are silly margins.
It helps, of course, that the other best young riders around - your Evenepoels, Ayusos, João Almeidas - have not been present at the Tour, but that's part of the point. Pogačar has been so good, so consistent, so wise beyond his years, that UAE has been able to blood him in the biggest race in the world from the beginning and he has delivered.
So now, what next for Pogačar? Now he's no longer officially a young rider, does everything change? It does mean that he will no longer have to do podium protocol stuff on days he is not in the race lead or in another jersey, which will save him time, some precious energy and possibly a bit of extra media scrutiny.
One can almost guarantee that he will keep on winning. This year, despite breaking his hand at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and failing at his attempt to win the Tour for the second year in a row, he has still won 16 races, putting him atop the pro wins table, and still has a claim to be the best rider in the world; who else but him could win Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders, and finish second at the Tour in the same season?
The big question about this generation of young riders is whether they can sustain the success, keep up their domination. For Pogačar, certainly, the winning has not ended yet.
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