UAE Team Emirates' Tadej Pogacar on the search for 'new goals' after dream Tour de France victory
Slovenian rider made history in Paris on Sunday and is still coming to terms with his achievement
In a normal year and under normal circumstances, winning the Tour de France would be followed by some well-earned rest. But this is not a normal year, and these are not normal circumstances.
Tadej Pogacar on Sunday made history by becoming the youngest Tour de France champion in 116 years and the first Slovenian to win the world’s most prestigious bike race. Having led UAE Team Emirates to victory after 3,500km and 21 stages of relentless racing, Pogacar has neither the time nor the opportunity to celebrate his monumental achievement.
Due to the Tour’s two-month postponement in response to the coronavirus pandemic, Pogacar has barely had the chance to catch his breath before he makes his way to Italy for the UCI Road World Championships. Seven days after crossing the finish line in Paris, decked out in the famed yellow jersey, Pogacar will be at the start line representing Slovenia in Imola.
Perhaps it’s just as well, then, that he still hasn’t come to terms with his new status as a history-making Tour de France winner.
“This hasn’t sunk in yet, really. I think it will be a long time until I realise that I won the biggest race in the world,” Pogacar said in a virtual press conference from his apartment in Monaco.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a kid: to be on the start list of the Tour de France and now I had the opportunity to race with the best. Then to win it is unbelievable for me. I will need some time to realise what happened.”
Pogacar, who turned 22 on Monday, can be excused for needing some time to adjust. Not only has he reached cycling’s pinnacle on his debut appearance and in only his second year as a professional, but the manner in which it was achieved was nothing short of extraordinary.
Sitting second in the General Classification standings, Pogacar entered the penultimate stage’s time trial needing to overhaul a 57-second deficit on race leader Primoz Roglic. He proceeded to smash the course, winning the stage by one minute and 21 seconds to snatch the yellow jersey at the last available opportunity.
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“We started in the mind of going for the top five [in the GC standings],” Pogacar said. “That was the main goal, but when I was second, we tried to defend it and tried to get some time back on Primoz. It looked impossible with his strong team and then at the time trial we were quite surprised by what I did.”
It was evident by the outpouring of emotion what Pogacar had achieved in the time trial. Hugs, tears, and cheers followed but the celebrations had to be kept to a minimum. After all, there was still the small matter of the last stage, a predominantly ceremonial finale to the Tour de France but a route that still needed to be completed without complications.
“It’s more of a tradition the last stage, but still the last circuit on the Champs-Élysées is really difficult, you need still to have good legs and a lot of focus,” Pogacar said.
“The first few kilometres are more for the photos and to enjoy the moment with the team until we arrive into Paris. Then you need to switch back on for the last few kilometres and hope nothing goes wrong. When you are crossing the finish line and you realise it’s finished, and you don’t have to worry about crashes or punctures, you’re just happy to be finished.”
While it is Pogacar who, deservedly, receives much of the acclaim for his Tour de France triumph, winning a Grand Tour is undoubtedly a team effort, from his fellow riders to the management and support staff. This win is as much about the UAE Team Emirates operation as it is about Pogacar.
“Even without Fabio Aru [who left the race during Stage 9] and Daniele Formolo because he broke his collarbone, we were still strong as six guys,” Pogacar said. “But also, the staff and management did such an amazing job. We didn’t have to worry about anything outside the race. We could just sit on the bike and race. It was a pleasure to work in this great team.”
After achieving so much so quickly, where does Pogacar go from here? “Now that I won Tour de France, for sure I need to find new goals,” he said. “I will try to defend my Tour de France title but next is the World Championships, so this is my goal in the coming days. In the future, I just want to be at my best and try to win again.”
Based on his career so far, winning again appears inevitable.
Updated: September 23, 2020 09:18 PM