Not so much a revelation as a confirmation. Victory at last year's Tour de l'Avenir meant that Tadej Pogacar was already touted as one of the most gifted neo-professionals in the WorldTour peloton even before he turned a pedal in anger for UAE Team Emirates. On Thursday, the Slovenian youngster simply lived up to that billing with an assured win atop the Alto da Fóia on stage 2 of the Volta ao Algarve.
Pogacar, who only turned 20 in September, showed a physical and tactical maturity beyond his years on the windswept approach to the finish. He was among the happy few to hang tough under the weight of Team Sky's forcing on the haul to the line and he then bided his time when Amaro Antunes (CCC) attacked in the final kilometre, before uncorking a sparkling sprint to beat Wout Poels and Enric Mas (Deceuninck-QuickStep) to the spoils at the summit.
"Before the climb, my teammates did a really good job to protect me," Pogacar said by the podium afterwards. "Then on the climb in the final, I just followed the attacks and then in the last 100 metres, I saw that I could push more, so I started sprinting and I came out my first victory as a pro so I’m really happy."
The swirling winds and low cloud around the Alto da Fóia, the highest point in the Serra de Monchique, meant that finishing sprint was a difficult one to gauge. Poels, for his part, confessed that he had opened his effort a little early. Pogacar, on the other hand, made it all sound so straightforward. "I knew how the wind was going and I just sprinted in the final to the victory," he said.
Pogacar was full value for his win, though he acknowledged that he had found himself in the role of UAE Team Emirates team leader by happenstance. When nominal captain Fabio Aru lost over a minute after he was caught up in the mass crash in the finale of stage 1, the role passed to Pogacar, who did not seem at all discombobulated by his increased responsibility.
"The first strategy was for Fabio Aru but he was involved in the crash yesterday with all the other guys, so we decided yesterday to give me the opportunity for general classification," said Pogacar, who takes possession of the yellow jersey of race leader. He carries a lead of 1 second over Poels into Friday's 20km time trial in Lagoa, with Mas a further two seconds back in 3rd, while Sam Oomen (Sunweb) lies 4th at 5 seconds.
"Tomorrow is a time trial so everything is on me there, but in the next days my teammates will do everything to protect me and I hope we can manage to finish in yellow," Pogacar said. "I'm not super expert in the time trial but I will do 100 per cent tomorrow and leave everything on the road and we’ll see how it goes."
Tour de l'Avenir
Slovenia has long produced WorldTour-calibre bike riders, but the nation is currently enjoying something of a golden generation. Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) placed 4th at last year's Tour de France, while Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), a double world champion at underage level, has begun to express that talent as a professional.
As an under-23 rider, Pogacar lined out for the Rog–Ljubljana squad that previously developed Luka Pinernik and his UAE Team Emirates teammates Jan Polanc. His final year with the team included 4th overall at the Tour of Slovenia, as well as his Tour de l'Avenir and Giro della Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia triumphs, though his contact with UAE Team Emirates predated those successes.
Pogacar was handed his first taste of WorldTour racing at the Tour Down Under last month, where he placed a solid 13th overall. "It was a great experience and great preparation for the next step," said Pogacar, who listed a strong showing at the Tour of California as one of his principal targets in 2019. On the evidence of the Alto da Fóia, his ambitions might be revised upwards.