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Pogacar arrives in Belgium for 'step into the unknown' at cobbled Classics

Strade Bianche 2022 - 16th Edition - Siena - Siena 184 km - 05/03/2022 - Tadej Pogacar (SLO - UAE Team Emirates) - photo Ilario Biondi/SprintCyclingAgency©2022
(Image credit: Ilario Biondi/SprintCyclingAgenc)

Tadej Pogačar has arrived in Belgium to begin what he has described as "a step into the unknown" as he makes his professional debut in the cobbled spring Classics and takes aim at Sunday’s Tour of Flanders

The Tour de France champion arrived in Belgium late on Monday evening and on Tuesday morning carried out a short reconnaissance ride of the route of Wednesday’s Dwars door Vlaanderen with his teammates.  

While rival Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and a number of other Tour of Flanders favourities have opted to train instead of racing Dwars door Vlaanderen, the UAE Team Emirates team leader will test his Flemish skills during the 183km race between Roeselare and Waregem. He has not raced since finishing fifth at MIlan-San Remo.  

Pogačar will have support from experienced UAE Team Emirates road captain Matteo Trentin, Alexys Brunel, Mikkel Bjerg, Vegard Stake Laengen, Rui Oliveira and Oliviero Troia.

Thee same seven riders have been selected for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders, where Pogačar is considered an outside favourite after his run of dominance at the UAE Tour, Strade Bianche and Tirreno-Adriatico. 

"I’ve really been looking forward to coming to Flanders. The history and passion for cycling in Belgium is unique and I can’t wait to be a part of it," Pogačar said via UAE Team Emirates after getting a first taste of the Flemish cobbles.  

"The shape is good and hopefully we can be near the front, but I’m under no illusions about the cobbles: I know this is a different kind of racing than normal. But I’ll try to soak it all in and enjoy as much as possible.

"My teammate Matteo Trentin knows these Classics races as well as anyone, so we’ll look to his experience in the team for sure. It’s a bit of a step into the unknown but one I’m very excited for."

A deep dive into Pogačar's results reveals he is no stranger to the cobbles of northern Europe, having raced across the continent as a Junior and Under 23 rider before joining UAE Team Emirates in 2019. 

Pogačar rode the Junior edition of Paris-Roubaix twice and finished 14th in 2016. He also rode the Under 23 edition of Gent-Wevelgem in 2017 and the Under 23 Ronde van Vlaanderen Belofte in 2018, finishing 15th in the chase group that came in six seconds behind solo winner James Whelan.

His solo victory at Strade Bianche confirmed he now has the bike skills and WorldTour ability to take on Van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and anyone else. His only weakness is experience and understanding of the complex race route, where positioning and timing make a huge difference. 

Like Biniam Girmay at Gent-Wevelgem, Pogačar can count on support from his teammates and road captain Matteo Trentin. 

"I think Tadej can also perform well here, it’s a different style of racing but he can adapt well," the Italian said. 

"It’s a pleasure to ride with him and I have no doubt he’ll be strong. I believe we have a group that’s capable of doing good things. Hopefully we can get as many of our guys as possible deep into the final, then anything is possible."

Trentin was on form in the early season and won the tough Le Samyn race on the cobbles before his spring was disrupted by a nasty crash at Paris-Nice that left him with delayed concussion. 

"I’m still coming back to top shape after the crash but I’m optimistic for Flanders. I know the race well and that counts for a lot in the Classics," he said.

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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.