Tadej Pogačar’s 50-kilometre solo ride to victory at Strade Bianche was incredible even by his own high standards, sparking surprise and admiration from his rivals, his UAE Team Emirates manager as well as fellow Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who followed Strade Bianche from a Eurosport/GCN motorbike.
Pogačar has taken a number of historic victories during his short career and his win on the gravel roads of Tuscany was up there with the best of them - his time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles to win the 2020 Tour de France, last year’s mountain stage to La Grand Bornand when his distanced all his rivals, and his 2021 victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
His rivals were left stunned when Pogačar attacked on the gravel descent sector at Monte Sante Marie, and left them eating dust.
“He came with momentum and once he got the gap, then he was gone,” admitted the USA’s Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma).
“I was in about 10th position in the group and it was impossible for me to follow Pogačar, he was just so strong,” said Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who finished second overall.
Wiggins also had a front row seat when Pogačar attacked, thanks to being on a commentary motorbike in the race for Eurosport/GCN. He saw the Slovenian surge away and watched as he powered solo to the finish at 50 kmh.
“He is f*cking incredible,” Wiggins said in usual blunt but affectionate style when Cyclingnews asked about Pogačar’s performance.
“He went with a quarter of the race to go. Once he went, there was no question that he wasn’t going to pull it off. His commitment was incredible. He was riding at 50 kilometres per hour the whole time.
“He’d crashed earlier but was up front all race and looked great. He looked in control the whole way; when they got back 10 seconds, he seemed to move it up a level. He’s just amazing.”
Pogačar has already been compared to Eddy Merckx, with even the Cannibal accepting that the young Slovenian appears to be on a similar career trajectory thanks to his aggressive style and hunger for victory.
“He makes me think of Merckx in the late 60s when he was so good,” Wiggins said. “I’ve never really seen a rider like him. It’s f*cking amazing to be on the motorbike and see him perform like that so close up. I feel so privileged.”
UAE Team Emirates manager Mauro Gianetti signed Pogačar when he was still a promising teenager and has built his team around him, securing Pogačar’s services with a multi-million dollar and multi-year contract.
Pogačar is paying Gianetti back with big victories and a surprising, fun loving character, who seems to enjoy racing aggressively.
“He’s a phenomenon, there's not much to say,” Gianetti told Cyclingnews as Pogačar stepped on the Strade Bianche winner’s podium, left in shock despite seeing him develop during the last three years and win big a number of times already.
“When he races, it always seems easy, even though it’s not. He’s amazing and an amazing young guy, who deserves to succeed,” Gianett said, understandably full of praise.
Pogačar admitted his attack was inspired, not premeditated and not part of a team strategy. That worried Gianetti as he watched from the Piazza del Campo but also excited him.
“When we saw him attack, we thought it was risky, too early. We hadn’t planned that and so don’t know why he went for it like that,” Gianetti admitted.
“But that’s how Tadej races. If he’d been caught, they'd probably have beaten him but that would have been okay after the race so aggressively.”
Gianetti is not interested in comparing Pogačar with Merckx or say Bernard Hinualt, who also raced aggressively with panache and character but sees similarities in their racing styles even if they are very different people from different eras.
“It’s not always fair to compare great riders of different generations. They’re all very different people but I suppose they have the same racing character,” Gianetti said.
“Like Merckx and Hinault, Pogačar just loves to race and to win Grand Tours and the Classics.”
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