Tadej Pogacčar lit up the World Championships with an aggressive attack just as he had done to win the Tour de France, but a week after his triumphant weekend in France, this time he was riding to help Primož Roglič in Imola rather defeat him, as they combined forces for Slovenia.
Počagar attacked with 42km and a lap and a half of the testing Imola circuit still to race. When nobody joined him over the top of the Cima Gallisterna climb, he committed to riding on alone. He would either time trial to an incredible solo victory or oblige the stronger nations to chase and so help Roglič.
Despite opening a 25-second gap as the bell rang out for the final 218km lap, Pogačar had little chance of another surprise victory but his attack forced Belgium to lead the chase for almost a lap and shook out the group of strongest riders.
After Pogačar was caught as the climbs of the last lap started, Roglič took over Slovenian team leadership and had the strength to join the select chase group that formed behind Alaphilippe after the last climb. He could do little to help the pursuit of the Frenchman and finished sixth in the sprint for the lesser medals won by Wout van Aert. However, Pogačar’s solo effort was the most aggressive attack of the race.
Pogačar was distanced on the final climb, paying for his solo effort as others and then Alaphilippe attacked. He finished 33rd, at 5:15 but his solo effort stood out as the most aggressive attack of the race.
“My job was to make a selection,” Pogačar told Cyclingnews post-race.
“During the race Roglič and I talked and we saw who felt best. When I attacked, I tried to do as much as possible. We are proud of our race.
“We wanted that the race would be hard but nobody reacted to my attack and they let me go. When I saw that the Belgium team kind of didn’t care, I went full gas. I was alone, so I tried to make a bigger gap and I tried to go as far as I could.”
Roglič preferred not to stop immediately after finishing sixth but returned to speak to Slovenian television. Slovenia was considered a minor cycling nation until recently but Pogačar and Roglič showed that they can also compete in one-day races as well as Grand Tours.
“We’re not really one-day specialist but we raced it and did well. I’m super proud to be part of it and even with the result,” Roglič said.
“I’m very happy with the tactics and the guys, how we did it and how we took the race on. Everyone did their best. Julian deserved to win and we are happy and proud that we raced as we did.”
Some Belgian cycling fans accused Roglič of not working enough in the chase group to help pull back Alaphilippe, with even Belgian Federation president Tom van Damme sarcastically suggesting Alaphilippe owed Roglič “2 beers for his tremendous work in the chasing group…”
Van Aert was more sporting in defeat, suggesting that Roglič did what he could and that Alaphilippe was simply stronger. There was no Jumbo-Visma combine in the final kilometres because Roglič was unable to pay back van Aert for all his work at the Tour de France.
"We are teammates and I would rather have Wout become champion than Alaphilippe but I was on my limit. I couldn't even sprint anymore," Roglič told Beglian television channel VTM.
"Those four other riders were all stronger than me. I had to close a gap after every corner. I gave it everything."
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