When asked about the news at the recent UAE Team Emirates press conference, Pogačar told Cyclingnews: “I'm super happy that UAE offered to help Pogi Team. They are one of the main sponsors now and I'm super happy that we get more and more sponsors that are curious [about] the team.
"It will help the team to grow, to give everyone the same opportunity, because now we have more than 150 riders. That is a big group for not such a big team and we are happy for each sponsor we get.”
In addition to several local sponsors including the Slovenian Tourist Board, the City of Ljubljana, Tuš, Carthago, and Peugeot Slovenija, the team’s foreign sponsors now boast such names as Colnago, Met, Prologo, DMT, Scicon, Elite, and Alé along with with associate members Pirelli and Look.
What is Pogi Team?
Founded in 2020, Pogi Team is a youth team with five age categories ranging from 13 to 19. It operates under the umbrella of the cycling club Rog (KD Rog), which also runs the Ljubljana Gusto Santic continental team, the women’s WorldTour team Ale BTC Ljubljana (now UAE Team ADQ), the women’s youth team BTC Ljubljana Scott, the recreational/amateur team Ljubljana MigiMigi, and the Maraton Franja, the largest Gran Fondo event in Slovenia.
The 72-year old KD Rog is one of the longest-lasting and most prestigious institutions of Slovene cycling. Listed among its alumni are such names as Simon Špilak, Borut Božič, Luka Mezgec, Jan Tratnik, Jan Polanc, Luka Pibernik, and Pogačar himself.
This year Pogi Team will also organize seven cycling races around Ljubljana, making up a new Slovenian Cup series, including the new Ciklokross Ljubljana, which it inaugurated this past December on its new course as part of an effort to promote cyclo-cross as a discipline in Slovenia. In 2021, it boasted 36 victories, 31 second places, and 25 third places.
According to KD Rog coach Miha Koncilija, Pogi Team was organized by Tadej Pogačar himself and Pogačar remains personally involved. He told Cyclingnews back in October that “In November  we [KD Rog] had some meetings with Tadej and he said, 'my vision is that I will have my own team.' And then he said, 'Look, Miha, you know me very well, you know, what is for me important? I would like that we [KD Rog] have Pogi Team.' So that is, that is the start.”
Pogačar isn’t just a figurehead however, he is financially invested.
“It is actually [Pogačar's] money,” Koncilija said. “[Pogi Team] have some sponsors, which are his personal sponsors. You know, he shoots TV commercials or something like this. And then he says, I don't want this money. I want this money to go to the steering committee.”
The UAE sponsorship
This year, Pogačar has help, as UAE’s contribution to the team is partially financial. However, Koncilija added that UAE Team Emirates also has plans to use Pogi Team as a kind of feeder or scouting program in Slovenia, an idea he credits to the power agent Alex Carera.
“Actually the most important thing is that if we will have some good riders that they will have an opportunity to go to the UAE team. This is also very important for our young, young boys. If we find some very talented young junior we will maybe say, okay, we can give you an opportunity to be in Pogi Team UAE because it's in the name, right? This will be our cooperation.”
These plans already seem to be partially in place. The Swiss Junior national cyclo-cross champion Jan Christen appeared recently in Instagram stories at the January UAE Training camp in Spain. When asked about this, Koncilija said that Christen had signed a pre-contract with UAE in agreement with his coach, Carera and Mauro Gianetti and that the young Swiss will wear the Pogi Team jersey but will continue his original program with the Swiss national team and will not relocate to Slovenia. (Christen could not be reached for comment.)
The feeder program may go even further than just the signings of individual riders. In the KD Rog five-year program, there were hints at a forming a potential under-23 development team (similar to those run by Jumbo-Visma and Team DSM) in place of Ljubljana Gusto Santic, however according to Koncilija, these plans are still up in the air.
“Maybe, but we still have already in KD Rog, the continental team, which is now named Ljubljana Gusto Santic. It depends, of course on a lot of things. The main part is the financials, how it will be for 2023, maybe it'll be already Pogi Team UAE or something like this also for a continental team, but it is still not determined that this will happen.”
Plans for further development in Slovenian cycling
The plans for Pogi Team are in reality just a piece of a bigger project to develop the sport of cycling in Slovenia, something which KD Rog and Tadej Pogačar himself are very invested in. Last December, it was announced that UAE Team Emirates sports director Andrej Hauptman, also a KD Rog alumnus, would be named the new president of KD Rog. He told Cyclingnews shortly after the announcement that the role was taken on a volunteer basis born out of a desire to go back to his roots.
“I grew up in this team, as did Tadej [Pogačar] and Jan Polanc. It's an honor to be part of the team and, you know, it's really nice because Tadej supports these guys. He really wants to help them to reach the same goal, to have the possibility to become professional with Tadej's help. We are proud to have Tadej help with the children and I am really proud to be a part of this team and this project.”
In addition to Pogi Team and the potential women’s and men’s under-23 teams, Hauptman has other big plans for KD Rog, the most crucial being the construction of a new cycling centre outside of Ljubljana.
“You know, like all over the world, I think that the biggest problem for small kids is having to go on the road with this traffic and the infrastructure is not really good for cycling in Europe,” he said.
“Our wish is to have one closed asphalt circuit, and one cyclo-cross circuit here.” The cyclo-cross circuit in question recently made its debut at the inaugural Ciklokross Ljubljana which was won and promoted by none other than Tadej Pogačar.
Not so serious
Even though these grand plans now involve some of cycling’s most powerful actors, Koncilija repeatedly stressed that first and foremost, Pogi Team was about having fun and developing young men into upstanding members of society.
“We are not paid for how good we are, what kind of results we have. I think it's the most important that we have the vision that the kids are raised as good people, that the things that we teach them are important for the life even later. It important to teach them about fair play, that we have for example, a lot of teachers being invited, people that tell them what is wrong with doping. These kind of things we think are that are very important, that they become not just the winners, but also the right person for life. Because I remember for myself and also some riders which I trained before, that cycling gave me a lot, even though I am not a big winner. This is what is important for us.”
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Kate Wagner is a Chicago-based writer and critic. Her work on cycling can be found in various publications including Procycling. Her newsletter covers cycling in an unconventional fashion, featuring essays, short stories, multimedia works and illustration.
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