Tadej Pogačar continues to transcend the limits of a Tour de France winner

With Tour of Flanders victory ticked off, it’s hard to bet against him adding the two remaining Monuments to his palmarès in the years to come

Tadej Pogacar on the way to Tour of Flanders victory 2023
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As is often the case in elite sport, particularly boxing, athletes have a tendency to regularly lay out grand statements of intent relating to certain goals or targets they intend on meeting. However, being prepared to do so also risks things spectacularly blowing up in your face.

Whether it’s a major Champions League clash, or a prize Las Vegas fight, you need to be confident in your own ability if you’re going to publicly lay out your game plan. Not only does it risk exposing your intentions to your rivals, it also risks scrutiny if it goes horribly wrong.

The same applies to winning arguably cycling’s toughest Monument.

Before ‘De Ronde’ got underway, Tadej Pogačar made clear that in order to win the Tour of Flanders, he would need to arrive in Oudenaarde alone. A risky move, although not if you’ve got the firepower to back it up.  

After being outfoxed by Mathieu van der Poel 12 months ago, it felt somewhat inevitable that Pogačar would return to Flanders in the best form possible this year, and this time there would be no need for a final sprint to decide the winner. The race would already be long sewn up.

As the race played out, Pogačar stayed true to his pre-race assessment, and there was a certain sense of defiance about each of his attacks as he looked to slowly weaken Wout van Aert and Van der Poel. He would simply not allow a similar finale to 2022, this time there was no way anyone was coming to the line with him.  

Each time the trio of favourites reached the vicious double header of the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg climbs, it was evident that the UAE Emirates man had done his homework. As the longest section of climbing in the race, this was the point to make his mark.

Van Aert had been distanced, and the Slovenian then slowly softened up his remaining challengers, before breaking them on the final ascent. When the elastic finally snapped, it snapped in style. 

Pogačar’s final knockout punch on the Kwaremont had enough bite to rival a Muhammed Ali right hook. It was devastating, it was simply unanswerable, and after surviving the first few blows, there was no way Van der Poel was getting back up off the canvas this time. 

Tadej Pogacar sprints towards Oudenaarde at the Tour of Flanders 2023

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” as the saying goes, and that’s exactly what Pogačar did, floating over the cobblestones, before stinging when it mattered.

It’s highly unusual to see the Slovenian on his limit. Even when he’s been well on the way to both of his Grand Tour victories, he’s looked ice cool, fresh and composed as he’s put more and more time into the opposition. It just looked too easy each time.

Although as he flicked between gritted teeth, and gasping for air, we saw Pogačar truly on his limit when the Kwaremont began to bite. It was going to take something truly gargantuan to beat Classics stars in the ilk of Van der Poel in their own backyard, and he continued to push through the pain as the Paterberg arrived moments later.

Tour de France winners aren’t supposed to win the Ronde van Vlaanderen, it’s just not the done thing. Only legendary figures such as Louison Bobet and Eddy Merckx have trodden that path before, and then eventually pulled it off. Pogačar has now followed, and simply continues to transcend what some perceive as being possible in a modern day Tour de France winner.

Tadej Pogacar celebrates Tour of Flanders victory

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Pogačar puts his money where his mouth is, and if he says he’ll win one of the biggest one-day races on the WorldTour calendar, then you can bet your bottom dollar that he will. You can’t learn or buy that kind of talent or confidence.

In his post-race interview, he was asked all about the prospect of becoming one of a select few riders to win all of cycling’s five Monuments. As things stand, the Slovenian is missing a Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo trophy in what must currently be a slightly overflowing cabinet. Although he was quick to bat away any initial hype around that potential target as he basked in the glory of what he had only just achieved.

“I don’t know if I can answer this question or not. We will see in the future,” he said. “I just ride my race and I’m just happy that I can compete in all those different races like Flanders, the Tour, the Ardennes and Milan-San Remo.”

However, the fact remains that Pogačar continues to defy logic and expectation, and once the dust has settled on Flanders, few would bet against him joining that elite members club only occupied by Eddy Merckx, Rik Van Looy and Roger De Vlaeminck in the years ahead.  

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Tom Thewlis

Tom is a News and Features Writer at Cycling Weekly, and previously worked in communications at Oxford Brookes University. He has reported from a wide range of races and events including the Tour de France and World Championships.