In the first of a revealing two part interview, the two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar looks ahead to what 2023 holds for him and how he can be even stronger.
Tadej Pogačar plays a proverbial straight bat to most questions. Lessons from losing the Tour de France? Next; already spoken about that. Legacy? To be the best he can. Season aims? To win.
Surrounded by more than a dozen international journalists present at a December UAE-Team Emirates training camp in Benidorm, Pogačar doesn’t differ too much from his well-rehearsed structure of answers to the press. He's learned the media game well; his media handlers have an A* pupil.
Yet when Cycling Weekly asks him what it would take to get him on the startline of the Giro d’Italia, he straightens up out of a slouch and ever so slightly jars open the door into his inner thoughts. "If it would be my choice, I would already have done it two years ago," the two-time Tour de France champion claims, perhaps surprisingly.
"But I am not the smartest to make the decisions of the program,” he quips, a wry smile appearing.
Then he goes back for more. “I would really like to go to the Giro,” he adds. “It’s been one of my favourite races since I was young because it’s the closest race to Slovenia, but for now the main focus is the Tour.
“Maybe after this year, after the Tour, we can see what I can still do in the next [few] years. For sure, there will be the Giro and the Vuelta again, maybe even a double Grand Tour in a year.”
Is a Giro-Tour double on the cards? “It’s possible to do, but to win both is really demanding for the body, and even if you can do both and win both, maybe you will feel so exhausted that maybe afterwards you finish your career! For sure it’s a challenge but it takes a lot, a bit toll on your body.”
2023’s Giro has three time trials in comparison to the Tour’s one, a far greater appeal for a man who goes so well against the clock. “For me, it doesn’t matter so much, the parcours,” he says. “I would go anyway, [regardless] if it was three time trials or one. It’s always nice to do a different race. The pink jersey is really nice and Italy is one of the best places to race.
“But like I said before, the Tour is the priority. For me as a rider, and also from the team, so we stick to the plan. There will still be opportunities if everything goes smoothly.”
A lap around Italy, however much he craves it, is on pause. Redemption at the Tour comes first. He rebuffs suggestions that he is aggrieved at having lost his title to Jonas Vingegaard, but also laughs off a perception that he is afraid of the Dane and his Jumbo-Visma team. “I mean, fear?” he repeats the question. “Not fear, but for sure he is one of the main riders that you will look at during the race, but he’s not the only one.”
“Angry, no,” he adds, “but motivated for sure. It’s a big motivation and I am more motivated than ever, but even if you’re too motivated you can do maybe too much and burn yourself out.”
That acknowledgement fits with what he goes on to say about timing his form better. He casts his mind back to the previous winter. “Last year I was doing an altitude camp before [late-February’s UAE Tour] but this year maybe I will leave it out. It’s really good training and you come out really good, but to be so good in February is maybe not the best when you look for other goals.”
Is that, and not making sure to eat when he faces attacks like he experienced on stage 11 of this year's race, his biggest lesson from 2022? “Maybe not to come to the first races in top shape,” he answers, “but to progressively come with a better shape afterwards for the bigger goals. This year I was already in really good shape in January and February, so that’s why I have started training [this time round] a bit later and easier.”
He’s also mindful of burnout, acutely aware that it may not be plausible that he’ll remain one of the sport’s best for a decade or more. “We are going to see about that,” he says.
“Maybe we don’t have so many race starts in the season. Each race you go [to, you go] full gas, you try to win and you need to be in top shape throughout the year. We will see if I can still be good at 33 or 35, but maybe for me that will be the time when I can say it’s enough and I can try to find something else, maybe something even better.”
Tomorrow (14 December) we ask Pogačar about who is next in line for UAE-Emirates leadership.
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