Tadej Pogačar still looked a little tired 24 hours after winning Strade Bianche with his immense 50km solo ride across the gravel roads and steep climbs yet made it clear he is out to win Tirreno-Adriatico and continue his incredible run of 2022 success.
Rivals of the calibre of Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Enric Mas (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-EasyPost), Tao Geoghegan Hart and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) perhaps start Tirreno-Adriatico fresher and more rested but Pogačar is on a roll.
“I’m very tired. I only did an hour on the bike today and hope to feel much better on Monday,” Pogačar said, even his often boyish young face showing signs of fatigue.
“I went deep in the last hour and a half of Strade Bianche and there was the crash too. But today is the day after the race, it’s hard like always. But we had a good day and so we’ll recover for the start of Tirreno-Adriatico.”
Pogačar’s solo victory has been added to the growing list of great victories, up there with the time win at La Planche des Belles Filles in 2020 when he snatched Tour de France victory from Primož Roglič and his 2021 victories at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
It lead to Eddy Merckx calling Pogačar a Campionissimo and again accepting that he could be the ‘next Merckx’.
“I understand what being called a Campionissimo means and I have to thank Eddy for saying that,” Pogačar said modestly.
“I’m honoured. It’s difficult to know what to say about Eddy Merckx being some kind of fan. I’m super happy about that and super proud.”
Merckx will no doubt be cheering for Pogačar when he races against Remco Evenepoel at Tirreno-Adriatico and the two clash for the first time in a major stage race.
Merckx is no fan of his fellow Belgian, while Pogačar is more sporting and curious about his young but ambitious rival.
“I expect him to be fast in the time trial and then we’ll see on the big climbs,” Pogačar said of their expected duel. “I can’t say how good he is, but for now he's shown he’s going well.”
Pogačar knows the fatigue of his Strade Bianche victory could mean he loses a few seconds but he knows the daily fight for time bonuses and then Saturday’s mountain stage over Monte Carpagna will be vital.
“In a race like Tirreno, you have to be focused every day. Something can happen every day. I’ll not say the race will be decided on stage 6, it can already be decided before that,” Pogačar said.
“I also need to do my best 14 km time trial. I need to go fast, so I don’t lose time against the other GC competitors.
“I think if I’m close to them that’s good. I’d say a gap of 10 to 20 seconds would be fine. In front is better, if you're behind, you need to race aggressively and push things, you need to pull time back. But sometimes that’s good too.”
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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.