Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) ripped up the race script and went on the attack with 120km to go at Tre Valli Varesine race, with only a puncture stopping him from fighting for victory and confirming his growing form as Saturday's Il Lombardia nears.
The Tour de France winner admitted his head was spinning after a long, intense and successful season but he fought to win the sprint for third place in the pouring rain in Varese, giving UAE Team Emirates second and third on the final podium. Only Alessandro De Marchi (Israel Start-Up Nation) spoiled UAE Team Emirates' day out front, beating Davide Formolo in the two-up sprint after they stayed away from the quality chase group. Pogačar is combining the Tre Valli Varesine and Wednesday's Milano-Torino to give his form a final boost before Saturday.
"We tested our legs for sure today. I wanted to give my best and to have fun out on the road," he said, explaining why he and Formolo went on the attack with 120km of the hilly Varese circuit to go.
On Monday, Remco Evenepoel (Deceuninck-QuickStep) went on the attack early before hitting out alone to win the Coppa Bernocchi race, while Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and other young riders seem to enjoy ignoring the traditional race narrative. Pogačar's Tour de France victories have followed similar exciting storylines and he likes to follow his naturally-aggressive instincts.
Pogačar had suffered as many of his Tour de France and Il Lombardia rivals rode aggressively at the Giro dell'Emilia on Saturday, but he wanted to bounce back and find a way of enjoying racing in the rain.
"On a course like today, with lots of ups and downs, and corners, it's actually pretty technical, so it's good to be in the break sometimes," Pogačar suggested, his enthusiasm still shining through despite racing for 58 days this year, including the Tour de France, the Tokyo Olympic Games and a season that started with a victory at the UAE Tour back in February.
"We're seeing more and more long-range attacks. I think it's good and more open. It's more interesting for the fans and makes for more interesting racing," he said. "This race was really hard. It was raining all day, we were trying to make the race hard by going in the break early and we managed that. After my puncture I had to regroup with the peloton and we had Davide up front, he was super strong, and we got second and third, which is great for us."
Pogačar has not been at his very best since returning to racing in late August. He was unable to go with Evenepoel and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) at the European Championships and finished 37th after a rather anonymous World Championships. He failed to finish the Giro dell'Emilia while Slovenian rival and compatriot Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) won but will race hard until the very end of the 2021 season.
"I honestly think my form is improving from race to race. My legs are good, my condition is good, but it's been a long season and my head is going around places (spinning)," he admitted.
"Sometimes I have a good day and sometimes a bad day, like Emilia, which was a really bad day for me. Now I need to prepare mentally for Il Lombardia. I think I can have a good day there."
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