Tadej Pogacar takes aim at more Grand Tour glory on Giro d'Italia debut

Slovenian leads UAE Team Emirates' charge and is the favourite to win the Maglia Rosa

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Tadej Pogacar has achieved almost everything possible during his record-breaking career so far.

The youngest winner in UCI World Tour history when he took the Tour of California at age 20, Pogacar catapulted himself to cycling superstardom in 2020 by becoming the youngest Tour de France champion in 116 years – achieved on debut, no less. He returned 12 months later to successfully defend his title.

Grand Tour success aside, which also includes a bronze on debut at the Vuelta a Espana, Pogacar has routinely swept aside his rivals in the biggest one-day races. He has six Monument titles in just four years and is the first male rider to win a road race Olympic medal in the same year as winning the Tour de France.

Pogacar's dominance is reflected in the rankings; he has spent more total and consecutive weeks as the world No 1 than any rider in history and finished the 2021, 2022, and 2023 seasons top of the standings.

However, one glaring omission from his many titles and achievements is success in the Giro d'Italia. That's an easy one to explain: he's never raced in it.

That will change on Saturday when Pogacar takes his place on the start line in Venaria Reale to lead UAE Team Emirates' charge, and the Slovenian is the comfortable favourite to secure victory.

He's been in typically impressive form in 2024, winning three of his four races – including his latest Monuments title in the Liege-Bastogne-Liege – and finished third in the other, the Milan–San Remo.

Unlike his triumphs this year at Strade Bianche and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, this will be no solo effort by Pogacar. Grand Tours can only be won with a strong team and he will be supported by an impressive UAE Team Emirates line-up, with every member playing a pivotal role in the Slovenian's pursuit of the Maglia Rosa.

Trusted domestiques Domen Novak and Rafal Majka will be by Pogacar's side in the mountains, with Vegard Laengen, Mikkel Bjerg, and Felix Grobschartner responsible for leading the team’s efforts from the front of the peloton. Rui Olivera will assume the role of lead-out man for sprinter Sebastian Molano, aiming to secure victory in one of the six sprint stages.

“Stepping onto the grand stage of the Giro d’Italia for the first time fills me with a lot of pride," Pogacar, 25, said. "The route is filled with breathtaking challenges, but I have a formidable team by my side.

"I’m ready to embrace all the twists and turns that Grand Tour racing brings. The route should suit me and the team, but this is World Tour Cycling, and anything can happen. We’ll be taking it day-by-day, stage-by-stage, ensuring we give ourselves the very best chance of success. It’s truly an honor to debut in this legendary race.”

Pogacar and UAE Team Emirates will face strong competition in the general classification from several teams and riders. Among them is Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France winner and 2023 Giro d’Italia runner-up, who brings a wealth of experience as he aims to go one better this year.

French veteran Romain Bardet, known for his strength in the mountains and consistency in Grand Tour racing, poses another significant threat, while emerging talent Cian Uijtdebroeks, of Team Jumbo Visma-Lease a Bike, will provide a stern test after an impressive start to the 2024 season.

Looking to build on an eighth-place finish in 2023 when riding for Bora-Hansgrohe, the Belgian will be spearheading the charge for Jumbo Visma in the absence of Jonas Vingegaard and Wout van Aert.

The Giro, raced over three weeks and 3,400.8km, comprises five mountain stages, eight hilly stages, six sprint stages, and two Individual Time Trials.

Pogacar will have his first serious test on Stage 2, with an 11km uphill sprint finish awaiting the riders, tackling gradients peaking at 13 per cent atop the Santuario Di Oropa.

Pogacar will seek to draw inspiration from his Strade Bianche heroics during the gravel sections across Stage 6, a new addition to the route for 2024. Another uphill sprint finish awaits the peloton, with Pogacar looking to distance himself from his rivals by the culmination of the first week.

With the final stage starting and ending in Rome, Pogacar will be aiming to further cement his place in cycling eternity in the Eternal City.

“The preparation for the Giro has gone really well. I haven’t raced too much so far this year, just 10 days, so I’m feeling fresh and ready to take on my first Giro," Pogacar said. "It’s a race I’ve dreamed of doing for a long time and it feels like now that the time is right to go for it.

"Obviously my aim is to go for the GC and we also have Molano for the sprints and a very solid team in general. We can’t wait to get it started.”

Updated: May 01, 2024, 9:43 AM