Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) may have been dubbed the next 'Cannibal' but even the 22-year-old double Tour de France champion is able to control his cannibal instincts and use his head as well as his legs to win stage 4 at Tirreno-Adriatico.
When rival Remco Evenepoel (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) dragged a move away with teammate Julian Alaphilippe and Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) on the first climb up the the finish with 40km to go, of course Pogačar joined in.
Yet unlike on Wednesday, when he forced a late attack that was eventually swept up, this time Pogačar opted to race smarter and wait for the final climb to the finish, perhaps knowing he could surge away to win the stage on uphill finish to Bellante, take the ten-second time bonus and so the race lead.
He did what was needed, nothing more, knowing the hardest stages at Tirreno-Adriatico are still to come on Friday and Saturday.
“You have to use your head, because otherwise you might bonk at any moment if you go too hard. I just tried to have it under control in the last kilometre,” Pogačar explained, insisting he is no Cannibal.
“When there’s no need to win, there’s no need to win. But sometimes, like today, there was no one taking responsibility to pull. Our team rode 200km on the front, and so you have to repay the work in some way to the guys.”
“Remco was strong in the final climb, but I think he tried too hard, and spent too much energy, like the first time we went away. He really wanted to go but I knew there was no chance, because I got the information from behind that it’s full-gas on in the chase. He is a super rider but maybe he spent too much earlier in the race.”
When Pogačar finally did light up the race in the final 600 metres, he had the power and speed to surge away from everyone as he has done so many times in the last three years.
He won with his arms in the air, took the ten-second time bonus and even gained seconds on everyone; two on Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Victor Lafay (Cofidis) and Evenepoel. Everyone else was further behind, with Filippo Ganna (Ineos Grenadiers) at 25 seconds, meaning Pogačar took the race leader’s blue jersey.
“It was pretty hard in the last few kilometres, there were a lot of attacks. Me and Marc (Soler) were responding well, one time I’d go and another time the other goes, so we had it under control. In the final 600 metres, I thought it was the moment to go, and I counter-attacked and it was just enough to come to the finish line."
Despite appearing in total control, Pogačar suggested he and UAE Team Emirates were worried about someone getting away on the final climb.
“I was worried about a lot of people, like all 30 or how many there were in the final,” he claimed.
“It was that kind of a climb that if you sit up for a moment and someone attacks and you don’t follow, it can go to the finish. It was great for us that we didn’t have to worry in the last 100 metres…”
UAE Team Emirates celebrated a double victory day but like everyone, Pogačar is aware a war is underway in Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. When asked about the war, Pogačar was clearly moved and spoke from the heart.
“It’s not a good situation, it’s really sad actually,” he said.
“When at cycling races you can take your mind off it a bit but as soon as you turn on your phone and open social media, it’s just sad news. I really hope it will be over as soon as possible. I hope there won’t be too much damage. We all pray for Ukraine.”
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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.