There’s a rumour going around the pro-cycling circuit that two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar is Superman. Not always, of course. Only when he wants to be, as in the Tour de France. The ease with which Pogačar won the last two editions of the world’s most prestigious road race, winning both mountains stages and ITTs, have led some riders, such as young Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard, to suggest the 23-year-old Slovenian is unbeatable. “It looks like he has no bad days on the bike,” Vingegaard told Cycling News. “I don’t see any weaknesses with him. He looks good in everything.”
The subject is of great interest to Vingegaard because next year’s Tour opens in his home country, which presents a unique opportunity for the 24-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider to try to become a cycling hero to his fellow Danes by winning the race. Vingegaard shot to prominence in last year’s Tour after team leader Primož Roglič crashed out and the young Dane took over as team leader and finished second in the race, 5 mins and 20 secs behind you-know-who.
The first problem for Vingegaard is convincing Jumbo-Visma to let him be team co-leader with Roglič. The second problem is more daunting: beating Pogačar, who has said he is “pretty excited” by the course of next year’s Tour. “It’s pretty great,” he told Velo News. “We have everything: sprints, small climbs, big climbs, echelons, time trials, cobblestones. I am really looking forward to it.” That sounds like a confident racer. However, informed of Vingegaard’s comments, Pogačar said that he was far from unbeatable.
Speaking on Geraint Thomas’ podcast, he said, “[The riders] shouldn’t be scared of me, for sure… because I can crack really fast. I do a good power on the not-so-long climbs but sometimes the longer climbs are worse for me, and the high altitude.” Fellow riders and cycling aficionados who have seen Pogačar at the Tour are likely to take this statement with a sarcastic smile and a grain of salt – though it is true that in his Tour debut, Roglič made up ground on him on the 2,400-metre-high Col de la Luz, only for Pogačar to blow his fellow Slovenian and everyone else out of their saddles with an astonishing performance in the stage-20 ITT.
This year Pogačar won three mountain stages at the Tour but was briefly gapped by Vingegaard at the top of Mont Ventoux – though he ended up beating the Dane by more than 5 minutes in the GC. That is some weakness. He went on to say that he could be beaten if he were isolated and a team like Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers sent several riders at him over the course of the race. “If it happens that I have a not-so-strong team, with long-range attacks, that makes it for us more difficult,” he said. “Ineos has a lot of leaders, so they can try a lot of things, in a different way. I think there can be a lot of things that can crack me or anybody else. It’s not that complicated.”
Right. Think back to the 2020 Tour and Pogačar climbing the mountains all by himself, with not a single UAE Emirates teammate by his side – and he still won because of that final time trial. Let’s face it, he is a complete rider, strong in every aspect of road racing, focused and smart – and now he has an excellent team to help him. That’s one reason he won this year’s Tour by such a large margin – and UAE Emirates will be even stronger next year.
I suspect that Pogačar was playing a cat-and-mouse game in telling Geraint Thomas and other rivals how to beat him. I don’t think he believes it himself. I think that he doesn’t believe anyone can beat him in the Tour de France, not in the foreseeable future anyway, and not without some chance misfortune ruining his chances.
And I think he’s right.