Tadej Pogačar’s Grand Tour mindset: Keeping control, playing smart and no overthinking

The Slovenian rider cut a calm figure speaking to media a few days before the grande partenza

Tadej Pogačar has had a “pretty good time” leading up to his first Grand Tour of the year. He’s been spending time with his family, and thinks that time has just "gone too fast" between Liège–Bastogne–Liège and the start of the Giro d’Italia. The thing is, life moves pretty fast if you’re Tadej Pogačar. Races are over quickly for him, because he tends to ride away from the peloton solo to win by a number of minutes. Then, there’s always the next goal on the horizon, and everyone expects him to do it all again. There’s scarcely even time for Pogačar to celebrate his achievements: he wins Liège, then he’s expected to win the Giro, then there’s the question of the Giro-Tour double, then after that it will be the Olympics. Then Lombardia. And so on, and on.

One might assume that the expectation on Pogačar’s shoulders could start to weigh on the Slovenian rider. At just 25, he has the eyes of the cycling world on him this week and almost everyone is expecting him to win the Giro d’Italia with his usual swashbuckling ease. In Turin, a few days before the grande partenza, as Pogačar sits speaking to the media, however, there isn’t even an edge of tension in his voice. His answers are clear and, if anything, he just states the blindingly obvious most of the time. There’s a sense that Pogačar isn’t thinking too much about the three weeks ahead. When the time comes, he’s going to let his legs do the talking.

“Everyone just wants to start the race, so do I,” he said. “Now every race I'm considered the favourite, I start to live like this and go to races prepared for this. I have in mind that, as a team, that everyone races against us and we need to control the race and take it from the start. The Giro will be the same, we have to control more or less every day, especially in the start as everyone will look at us. When you have a good team around you, you have less pressure.”

If anything, one of the few criticisms that Pogačar has faced leading up to La Corsa Rosa is around the team he has to support him through Italy. Geraint Thomas commented on his Watts Occuring podcast that the UAE Team Emirates rider could be at risk of finding himself isolated in the toughest stages. Naturally, Pogačar doesn’t seem to be worried about this. He doesn’t seem too worried about anything.

“I don't think [I will be isolated]. Of course, you are isolated sometimes but I can be confident with Rafał Majka, Felix Großschartner, also Domen [Novak] and Mikkel [Bjerg], they can do a good job in the mountains,” Pogačar said. “Also, we have a really big train in Vegard Stake Laengen for the flat which means the other guys can relax a bit. I’m pretty confident in this team, also [Sebastián] Molano can help position us. If everything goes normal we will have a good team spread out throughout the Giro.”

While there has been plenty of talk surrounding this year’s Giro d’Italia route, with shorter, punchier stages coming much earlier in the race, Pogačar appeared nonplussed about this too, stating that, to him, Grand Tours are all pretty similar regardless.

“Every time it's the same in cycling. There's a little bit of difference to some parcours but in Grand Tours, you have time trials, long climbs, some short climbs, some long stages, some short stages, you can't really have a rider suited more to one than the other,’ he stated. “In Grand Tours, you need to be good on flat, in the bunch, on the climbs, even sprints, time trials, you need to be as versatile as possible.”

After that, the question came: what climbs are Pogačar looking forward to most in the Giro?

“I don’t know each of them by name, it’s too much,” he laughed before commenting that the stage to Livigno and then Monte Grappa were the ones at the forefront of his mind.

Will cold weather impact the race? 

“I hope everything stays more or less dry so we don't have to get our jerseys dirty too much,” he joked in response.

In a 20-minute press conference filled with realistic and lighthearted responses, the only time Pogačar appeared even slightly agitated was when responding to the fact that his competitors in the Giro d’Italia aren’t being given the ‘respect’ that they deserve when it comes to their ability to challenge him.

“It’s a little bit shit, it’s not nice. It's not respectful to the other riders,” he said. “It's not always about me and UAE Team Emirates, there's not as much difference when it comes to big mountains and long races. Everybody is prepared for this and every team wants to go to victory.”

Despite being keen to point out that his rivals deserve to be given credit, Pogačar is certainly unafraid of his status as the stand-out favourite to win the Giro. It doesn’t intimidate him, or stress him out, in fact, he seemed to just be looking forward to getting things started. 

“Everybody knows that we need to control the Giro, Tour, we are the favourite team and everybody will follow our lead. Maybe they will try something sometimes but we always need to follow our own way and our plan and calculate everything so we still have something left for the last stages and we are not completely emptied out,” he said when asked about his tactic for the race.

“It’s not the ambition to have a jersey on the second day, it’s not a big goal. We want to be in Rome in pink, it doesn’t need to be the first stage. We’ll go day by day and see how the legs are and how the race develops. If there is an opportunity to take pink, we’ll take it but we need to play it smart.”

After so many victories in his young career already, including in almost every race he’s started this season, Pogačar’s motivation never seems to have faltered. Perhaps this is, in part, thanks to his ability to keep a level head in the face of all the noise surrounding him. His race calendar this year has been sparse but effective, ensuring he’s coming to the Giro without either physical or mental fatigue.

“You‘re more motivated when you race less, you train hard and you know the shape is good. You see the races on TV and want to be there. It’s beneficial for the mind when you come to the race eager for success with this mentality,” he stated.

As the press conference drew to a close, a final question was posed to Pogačar about, quite simply, whether he liked the Giro d’Italia as an event. He plainly responded: “I like every race that I go to.”

To be honest, if we were Tadej Pogačar, we’d like every race too.

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