Pogačar (of Course!) Soloes to a Crushing Victory in Liège-Bastogne-Liège

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Tadej Pogačar’s victory in Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège was as inevitable as, say, Mathieu van der Poel winning Paris-Roubaix – even though the Alpecin-Deceunick superstar was at the Liège start line. All other things being equal, with its 4,500 m of climbing, the last of the spring Classics has always favoured the better climber, and Pogačar is one of the best in the world.

So it was fitting that the two-time Tour de France winner made his winning attack near the bottom of the iconic Côte de la Redoute (1.6 km % 9.4%, with ramps of 15%) with 34.4 km to go in the 254.4 km race, quickly built a sizeable lead and was never challenged again.

The veteran French rider Romain Bardet (dsm-firmenich PostNL) went on a solo ride of his own. With about 20 km left to race, he left a group of four riders, including Ben Healy (EF Education–EasyPost), on the last of the race’s 11 categorised climbs, the Côte de la Roche-aux-Faucons (1.3 km @ 10.1%), and held off his pursuers to finish second, 1:39 behind the winner. Pre-race co-favourite van der Poel won a bunch sprint to finish third, 2:02 adrift.

Pogačar seemed quite emotional as he approached the finish line, pointing at the sky several times and keeping his customary celebrations to a minimum. And he admitted as much after the race, telling Eurosport: “All day, it was quite emotional for me riding on the bike, thinking of Urška’s mother from two years ago when we had to go home, and last year when I broke my hand.”

The 25-year-old Slovenian pulled out of the Liège in 2022 after the mother of his partner, Urška Žigart, passed away and he abandoned the race last year after breaking his wrist in a crash. “The last two years were really difficult and I was riding for Urška’s mother today,” he went on to say. “I’m really happy that I can finally win in this race again, this beautiful race.”

Pogačar was full of praise for his team, saying: “It was amazing teamwork, and I couldn’t have done it without them. I’m full of emotion.” He also admitted that last year’s crash was on his mind throughout the race. “Today, I had all day in my mind to be careful. Last year, I had all day in mind to save as much energy as possible but today I was more on the safe side. The team did a super job. We rode hard on the climbs, safe on the downhills and on La Redoute we did exactly what we said. From then on, it was suffering to the finish.”

Though he had come to Liège after winning two Monuments this spring, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, van der Poel had no illusions about his chances against the winner on the race’s short but very steep climbs. “I’m realistic enough. I know that if Pogačar has a good day, I cannot follow him, not even with my best legs,” van der Poel said in a post-race interview with Cycling Pro Net. “We also know that he can have a bad day – or at least I hope he can have a bad day. He was impressive again today, and I think my Classics season was more than successful. I’m really happy to end up on the podium here today.”

Van der Poel’s chances were compromised when he got caught up in a mass crash with about 95 km left in the race and soon found himself 1:25 behind the peloton with some 20 other riders. But he remained calm and let teammates and other riders gradually bring the group back to the front 20 km down the road.

Another pre-race co-favourite, Tom Pidcock (INEOS Grenadiers), suffered a mechanical breakdown and found himself behind van der Poel’s group. The Briton worked hard to catch that group and then worked again, with three other riders, to close the gap to the peloton. Perhaps the 24-year-old Briton paid for all that effort at the end where he was never really a factor and finished tenth, in the same group as van der Poel.

In two weeks, Pogačar will be tackling the Giro d’Italia for the first time before he goes for his third Tour win in an attempt to take a rare Grand Tour double. Based on his performance on Sunday, only bad luck can keep this great rider from making history.