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2024 Strade Bianche: Pogačar Is One of the Greatest Cyclists of All Time

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Tadej Pogačar called the shot and then kept his promise as he won the 2024 Strade Bianche with an 81-km solo. Even he was impressed by his performance, saying after the race, “I must say it was really one of my best experiences. Every race, every victory has its own story, and I will never forget this one.” 

Before the race, the 25-year-old UAE Team Emirates leader was asked when he would take off on his solo run, and he replied, “On Monte Sante Marie,” referring to an 11.5-km gravel climb (avg. slope 1.3%) that begins about 87 km from the finish of the 215-km race. But he was smiling when he said it, and his interviewer also laughed, as if the two were sharing a joke. And, Pogačar later admitted, they had been.

“It was not the plan but the race went differently than we expected,” he said after the race. “It was a harder race [than I expected]. There was a really big rain, a hailstorm, and it was already ‘nerves on’ before Sante Marie, so there was no big group and not many riders left. I knew that if we didn’t make the difference there, it was going to be hard to get away solo later.” He went on to say that the rides after that gravel section did not suit him, so he had to make a decision. “I decided to push it and see if somebody came across or not. I had also [teammates] Isaac del Toro and Tim Wellens behind in the group, so I knew if I ran out of gas, we still have two guys that could race for the team.”

According to Strava, Pogačar set the record for the quickest ascent of the Monte Sante Marie with a time of 19:08 and for the fastest average speed of 36.0 km/h. He had won the Strade Bianche in 2022 with a solo ride of some 50 km but this was on another level. It began with a stunning burst of speed and power in a torrential downpour. Sepp Kuss (Visma–Lease a Bike) tried to follow but he soon realised that he had no chance.

Tadej Pogačar
Tadej Pogačar’s astonishing 81km solo attack to secure victory at the Strade Bianche was a feat that left many speechless, including the Slovenian rider himself. © Profimedia

After 2 km, Pogačar already had a lead of 26 seconds. After 8 km, it was up to 56 seconds. The lead ballooned to an astonishing 2:41 after just 22 km of solo racing, with only Maxim Van Gils (Lotto Dstny) in pursuit. He was eventually joined by the Latvian Lidl-Trek rider Toms Skujiņš with 20.5 km to go, and the two fought an exciting duel for second place won by Skujiņš who finished 2:44 behind the winner. Van Gils came in a further 3 seconds behind. Tom Pidcock, not exactly a slouch of a rider, finished fourth at 3:50.

Pogačar’s biggest lead was an astounding 4:02 with 27 km left to race but he either tired or slowed a bit to enjoy the scenery, as far behind him the two pursuers continued doggedly and a third pursuing group of some 12 riders began working together. As he headed for a historic victory, the 25-year-old two-time Tour de France winner showed he is almost as much a showman as he is a genius of a cyclist, as he high-fived his coach, smiled for the cameras, waved to the large crowds lining the sides of the road and shook his fist in triumph.

“It was a really beautiful atmosphere out on the road,” he said. “It was incredible. I’ve never seen so many people at an Italian race like today.” When asked if it was his most beautiful victory ever, as many commentators had suggested, he replied, tongue in cheek, “My most beautiful victory? I don’t think so because I was so dirty.”

As remarkable as the performance was, it’s even more impressive when you consider that this was Pogačar’s first competitive race of the year. That means he can only get better. And the race was anything but easy, as it included 3,669 m of climbing, with slopes up to 18%. Pogačar’s primary Tour de France rivals – Jonas Vingegaard (Visma–Lease a Bike), Remco Evenepoel (Soudal–Quick Step) and Primož Roglič (BORA-hansgrohe) – have therefore been put on notice that they will be facing him in what looks, at the moment, to be the best form of his life.