Tadej Pogačar: The superstar, the heartbreaker, the entertainer

The Slovenian rider’s performance in today’s time trial was yet another confirmation that cycling hasn’t seen this type of talent before

He has said before that time trialling isn’t his speciality. He didn’t attack on yesterday’s Strade Bianche-style stage, so some thought he wasn’t in his best form. Some of his rivals have been able to closely match him in the Giro d’Italia so far, so maybe he wasn’t going to run away with the race. By the time he started his effort in the late afternoon, the wind direction wasn’t in his favour. He was wearing the maglia rosa skinsuit, which is said to have aerodynamic disadvantages. There were plenty of doubts surrounding Tadej Pogačar’s ability to perform on stage seven of the Giro d’Italia today. The Slovenian rider’s response? “The climb, full gas.”

This was his strategy in its simplest form. As Pogačar revealed after the stage, he took things a little bit easier to “get used to the TT bike” in the earlier sections of the 50 kilometre race against the clock, then when the gradient kicked, and he was on the terrain he feels most at home, the throttle was turned, the watts were pushed, and the time gaps between him and his rivals just went up. And up. And up.

But you didn’t even need to look at the clock ticking away to get an idea that Pogačar was doing something special in today’s stage. His demeanour on the bike showed it: his pedalling was fluid, his body was solid, his mouth barely moved into a grimace. The UAE Team Emirates rider’s souplesse and skill was a stark contrast to that of his closest rival on the classification: Geraint Thomas. A few minutes ahead of Pogačar up the road, the Ineos Grenadiers rider was grinding a big gear, his body crumpled and his face etched with pain. The difference in speed between the two riders was palpable.

Pogačar didn’t just break the hearts of the riders he is battling with for the maglia rosa today, either. Filippo Ganna had sat in the hot seat after posting the fastest time for over an hour, watching riders roll into Perugia and fail to beat his time over and over again. The television cameras captured the slow change of the Italian champion’s emotions with dramatic effect: he went from wearing sunglasses and making jokes, to biting his nails and furrowing his brow in concern. As Pogačar dissected the final climb with clinical ruthlessness, Ganna even gestured frantically to the screen he was watching for the race leader to slow down. When Pogačar eventually beat his time by almost 20 seconds, Ganna waved to the camera with a sad sort of defeat. Ineos Grenadiers may have the strongest collective team in this year’s Giro, but, right now, there’s nothing to be done in the face of Pogačar’s perfect physical ability. At this moment, he looks unbeatable.

Tadej Pogacar Giro

There can sometimes be something demoralising about watching a rider perform with such unquestionable dominance, it can mean that the race is going to be rendered dull, the winner so predictable it takes the fun out of watching altogether. But Pogačar’s reaction when he crossed the finish line today was of such visceral joy and happiness that it went some way to mitigating this feeling. It was like the pressure that had been on his shoulders in the lead-up and during the Giro d’Italia so far was slowly being lifted. He’d done it, he’d lived up to expectations and he’d proved to everyone that he is unquestionably worth every single bit of the hype that has surrounded him. This win meant something to him.

The way that Pogačar has raced so far in this year’s Giro has also made him a likeable race leader. He attacked and animated the opening stages with his usual swashbuckling style, undeterred by the fact he was surrounded by a strong Ineos Grenadiers team. His white, then pink, jersey has regularly been an infiltrator in the Ineos train on multiple stages – Pogačar weaves his way through the peloton to sit exactly in the middle of the team that are trying to beat him. It’s almost a real life reflection of what the Slovenian rider has brought to the peloton in recent years: the Ineos Grenadiers are the old-school, well-drilled, organised GC team, but Pogačar is the scrappy fighter getting in between them. He just wants to race his bike hard, he doesn’t want to follow the usual rules or structures of Grand Tours. And right now, that approach is winning.

The Giro d’Italia is still long, but the seventh stage has ended with the odds firmly in Pogačar’s favour. When he gained minutes on his rivals in today’s time trial, he once again asserted himself as a generational super talent that leaves other teams scratching their heads when it comes to beating him. For those of us watching at home, the thing that should make Pogačar’s performance today inspiring, is that while he most likely will go on to win this Giro d’Italia, he won’t do it in the way that we expect. That’s not Pogačar’s style. He’ll be entertaining us every step of the way.

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