Pogačar Sends a Loud Message with Vuelta a Andalucía Domination

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Is Tadej Pogačar on a mission this year? It’s early in the season – the Tour de France is more than four months away – but if the five-stage Vuelta a Andalucía is anything to go by, the two-time Tour winner is already hungry for victories. Not only did the 24-year-old Slovenian win three of the race’s five stages but his UAE Team Emirates came within a few inches of a clean sweep, with Oscar Fraile of INEOS Grenadiers nipping Pogačar’s teammate Alessandro Covi in the bunch sprint on the final stage.

Of course, Pogačar easily won the race general classification. It would be natural to think that with such domination in a regional UCI ProSeries race, he would beat mediocre opposition. But that was not the case. He came in 1 min 18 sec ahead of Mikel Landa of Bahrain Victorious. Landa’s teammate Santiago Buttrago was at 1:23, Carlos Rodriguez of INEOS stood at 1:39, Movistar’s Enric Mas was 2:02 adrift and another INEOS rider, the 2020 Giro d’Italia winner Tao Geoghegan Hart, finished 2:47 behind. That is not exactly shabby opposition.

If Pogačar wanted to send a message, he can be sure that it didn’t fall on deaf ears. If no one else heard it, a rider he has identified as a future Tour de France winner – an eventual rival, in other words – Remco Evenepoel, heard it loud and clear.  “Stop winning, thank you,” the 2022 UCI Road Race World Champion wrote on Pogačar’s Instagram account, in response to the Slovenian’s announcing the 50th win of his short career after his victory in stage 4.

La Vuelta Andalucia
The last stage of the 2023 Vuelta a Andalucía cycling race. © Profimedia

Unfortunately, it seems that the two riders – perhaps the two best road racers in the world currently – may not race against each other in a multistage race this year. Evenepoel is currently racing in the UAE Tour this year, which Pogačar decided to skip. And the 23-year-old Soudal-Quick Step rider will race in the Giro d’Italia where he is due to face Pogačar’s Slovenian compatriot Primož Roglič. Pogačar will, of course, skip the Giro to save his energy for the Tour de France and try to revive his reputation as “the new Eddy Merckx,” an appellation that took a big hit when he lost last year’s Tour to Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard.

This year’s Tour de France has lots of climbing, which some commentators have suggested was the reason Evenepoel decided to avoid it. Four of the five stages in the Vuelta a Andalucía involved climbs of various difficulty, so we can assume that this was the reason Pogačar chose it over his team’s home race. He has always been an excellent climber but sometimes struggled on the most difficult mountains. And he lost last year’s Tour on two mountains on stage 11, the  Col de Galibier and the Col du Granon, after being trapped and tricked by Jumbo-Visma. “I was a bit short of fuel,” he said afterwards.

It looks like he wants to make sure that this doesn’t happen this year. If this early race is an accurate indication of his intent and fitness, this could be another stellar year for Tadej Pogačar.