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Pogačar Sets out Ambitious 2024 to Reclaim Title as King of the Road

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

It’s not surprising that Tadej Pogačar has planned a very ambitious racing schedule for 2024, a schedule that, if everything falls right, could have him potentially win the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, the World Championship, and an Olympic gold medal. That would certainly make him the undisputed ‘King of the Road’ again as he was after winning the second of his two Tour de France yellow jerseys in 2021.

Those were heady days for the now 25-year-old UAE Team Emirates leader when he was widely regarded as the second coming of the legendary Eddy Merckx and many pundits were already counting his future Tour victories on two hands.

But that is not how it has panned out. While no one doubts his unique cycling abilities, and many cycling aficionados still consider him the best road racer of his generation, he has not been able to confirm his early domination, not in the Tour de France, in any case. He has won a lot of one-day races since his last Tour victory but no Grand Tours, no World Championships, no prize that is equal to his reputation. He finished second on the last two Tours, well beaten by Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard, and he has won an Olympic bronze and a World Championship bronze. But Pogačar knows that podium finishes don’t create legends, and anyone who has seen him race knows that he always races to win and is never satisfied when finishing second.

The Giro-Tour double is a kind of Grand Tour Holy Grail and could refurbish his standing as the best cyclist in the world. It has not been accomplished since Marco Pantani did it in 1998. The list of the riders who have achieved it over the years reads like a Who’s Who of cycling legends: Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche and Merckx, the only rider to do it twice. It is an exploit difficult to resist for someone as ambitious and talented as Pogačar.

Vingegaard and Pogačar
The 2024 season presents unique challenges for Pogačar, with the Paris Olympics following the Tour de France. © Profimedia

“I think everybody wants to do the double and it is one of the hardest things to achieve,” he told journalists at the UAE Team Emirates training camp in Spain. But he is not riding the Giro purely out of personal ambition, or so he said. “I could feel the team would also want me to try something else, not to repeat every year the same… and to try new challenges. Because if you do every year the same story, then I think for my body it would not be good. I think also in the team they saw this and when I proposed this to them, they immediately said, ‘Yes, let’s prepare for this.’

But, going by his schedule, there is an even greater prize to be won, the Triple Crown, which consists of the Tour, the Giro and the Road Race World Championship. Only two male riders have ever accomplished that, Merckx and Stephen Roche, and only one woman, Annemiek van Vleuten.

Riding in the Giro next year, against notably Wout van Aert (Jumbo–Lease a Bike) and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), also fulfils a boyhood dream, Pogačar said. “I always wanted to do the Giro. It is one of my favourite races because it is close to Slovenia and as a kid, I really loved to go to the stages of the Giro. I had one of the nicest memories from the Giro when Luka Mezgec won a stage in Trieste and I was there. It was an unforgettable moment, so it was always a dream.”

Mezgec’s win was the first for a Slovenian in the Giro, and since then, there have been more Slovenian stage wins in the race. And there was Primož Roglič’s GC win this year, which surely must have given Pogačar added motivation. His team is providing all the support he could possibly want in his 2024 quest. Jay Vine, Rafal Majka and Felix Großschartner will give him ample support in the Giro mountain stages while Pavel Sivakov, Adam Yates, Juan Ayuso, João Almeida, Marc Soler, Nils Politt and Tim Wellens comprise the Dream Team that will have his back in next year’s ultra-hard Tour de France.

Naturally, Pogačar’s spring schedule will be far less ambitious than last year. He will ride in the Strade Bianche, Milan-Sanremo and Volta Ciclista a Catalunya in March and only Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April before he tackles the Giro. And no racing between the Giro and the Tour.

Pogačar seemed to suggest that, depending on how he does next year, he might have a bigger goal in the future. “I think I know myself pretty much now that if nothing goes wrong in my head, I can do even all three Grand Tours if I want,” he said. “But to race 100 per cent mentally focused is a little bit different, and you don’t know until you try.”

It sounds as if he has taken stock of his last few years of racing and decided to focus on accomplishments that will best display his prodigious talents. If he even comes close to achieving his ambitious goals while competing against Vingegaard, Roglič and Remco Evenepoel, he will certainly have fulfilled his early promise.S