Tadej Pogačar is one of "the greats" and is a "Campionissimo", Eddy Merckx has said, following the Slovenian's dominant performance at Strade Bianche on Saturday.
The Belgian legend, widely regarded as the best cyclist of all time, is happy to describe Pogačar as his heir.
Aged 23, the UAE Team Emirates rider has one two Tours de France, Il Lombardia, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Strade Bianche, Tirreno-Adriatico and the UAE Tour twice.
In a 13-year career, Merckx won five Tours de France, five Giri d'Italia, as well as all of what are now considered the monuments, 19 victories across them. Strade Bianche was a race he never could have won, it only being started in 2007.
“I’ve always said I don’t like to make comparisons. I’m just happy to have been the best of my generation," the Belgian told La Gazzetta dello Sport after Pogačar won Strade Bianche.
"It’s becoming difficult to find the word to describe what this young guy does. It’s spectacular and formidable. Pogačar is a Campionissimo," he said.
"Considering he’s just 23, it’s incredible what he’s able to do. There’s a tendency to start winning at a younger age these days but what he’s doing is unique."
So far this season Pogačar has won the UAE Tour and Strade Bianche, and shows no signs of slowing down. His 50km solo attack on Saturday was still remarkable, however, and showed his dominance of the sport.
"I wasn’t surprised to see him attack so early because I’ve never seen him make a tactical mistake," Merckx said.
"When he makes a move it’s because he’s convinced he can pull it off. That’s a rare quality that only the great riders have."
The Slovenian will line up at Tirreno-Adriatico as the outstanding favourite this week before heading to Milan-San Remo. Merckx did not shy away from saying that Pogačar could win on the Via Roma, and win his third monument in the process.
"Why not? He can definitely attack alone and get away on the Poggio, and so nobody would catch him before the finish," Merckx said.
The UAE Team Emirates rider will then head to Tour of Flanders for the first time, and while he will not be expected to perform with the best at his first attempt at the cobbled classic, he could still have an impact.
"We’re talking about one of the greats. They never have limits and can’t be judged against ordinary riders. Of course it won’t be easy for him with no experience but when he starts, he'll want to win," Merckx argued.
"I really like that he always rides to win. That means he trains hard and prepares everything as well as possible.
"Riders like Pogačar dominate the sport when they are at their best. That’s tough to take for their rivals but good for the sport. The public watches eagerly and that increases the interest in the sport. I’m sure Pogačar will make our sport even bigger."
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