Tadej Pogacar still looks like the child he was when he came to cycling like a bomb, almost four years ago. He is already 24 (he was born in Komenda, Slovenia, on September 21, 1998), but it is the same surprised and amused look from when they called him Pogi because of how tiny he was, of a boy with cheeks who discovers the wonders of life and he throws himself towards them, and towards all the obstacles, always without fear of what will happen, of the carefree teenager who tries to pose seriously and can’t help laughing, his little eyes. In just four years as a professional he has won two Tours, and has been second in another, three monuments, two Tirrenos, 51 victories already and counting, which 99% of the cyclists in the peloton will not win in their entire career. But, he says, his hunger has not been exhausted. Nor his desire to let himself be guided by instinct when he competes, to attack from afar without fear of what will happen, and, despite everything, to live relaxed, without stress or burden. He talks about all this, and about the Tour that he lost, the day after winning a race in Jaén after attacking more than 40 kilometers from the finish line on a gravel and sand road. “The most spectacular victories come when you do something crazy,” he says, and, he might be christened the Laughing Cannibal, he might add that he, too, cultivates magnificent defeats out of it.
Ask. You arrive in big cycling before your 21st birthday and you already seemed like a finished article, as you demonstrated in the Gredos stage of the 2019 Vuelta, a distant, devastating attack, and a peloton chasing you to no avail…
Answer. That stage in Gredos was really special. He had already won two stages [en Andorra y en Los Machucos], but both with an attack on the last climb, and, yes, of course, I surprised myself day after day, but stage 20, that of Gredos, was something amazing. I discovered myself. That opened up a new path for me in cycling and, I think, in my running style.
Q. Did you think that day, perhaps, that it was even better than you thought? That she had no limits?
R. Maybe maybe. It’s hard to talk about it now, it’s been so long… But it’s a fantastic memory that I’ll never forget. It was a fabulous stage. I remember it well, and it was very exciting.
Q. Since then, with that style, he has won two Tours, two Tirrenos, two Lombardies, one Liège… He is 24 years old and has already won what great champions usually accumulate at the end of their careers. How long will he be hungry?
R. The years go by really fast, they are not long at all. It seems that it was yesterday, an instant, what happened three or four years ago… They have passed as if nothing, so fast. So I think I will keep the same motivation to win every race for at least the next three or four years.
Q. It seems that time does not pass, but the body changes and begins to stop accepting what was normal before. Has she started complaining about her body already about how much she demands of it?
R. Complain? I don’t know, I haven’t noticed. I’ve grown a bit more, I think. I’m no longer the kid we talked about before. But I feel good, my body still feels good, and I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.
Q. Does the head not complain about the life of a cyclist, about discipline? What is harder mentally, a hard stage of the Tour or the preparation, the life of a monk necessary to arrive in top form?
R. I would not say that the preparation is worse, but they are two completely different things. The process to get to the Tour well is much, much longer. And what makes it harder is that it hardly generates adrenaline and every day I do the same thing more or less, thinking about the Tour, I just think about the Tour all the time. I will surely prepare it in height in Sierra Nevada. It’s not sure, but I love the site, I really, really love it. I’ve been there twice and I get high-quality training there, and the weather is always good. And when I get to the Tour everything changes, the adrenaline surges, there are emotions, more stress, and time flies on the Tour. One only hopes to have arrived with good preparation, to be in good shape and from there, move on.
Q. And yet, he wants to repeat over and over again. Don’t you ever think, ho, what a bore?
R. Perhaps in some hard moments of the Tour I sometimes wonder, but why am I doing this? And when I get to Paris, the next day I’m already thinking, wow, there’s less than a year left for one more Tour de France. ufff. But if you do it with passion, it’s not that hard, I think. It is such a difficult sport that it is not so hard to make sacrifices and suffer a little.
Q. A few days ago, when announcing his retirement, the Frenchman Thibaut Pinot thanked fate for not having won the Tour, although his entire career he has been trying, obsessed, because success and fame would have transformed him, for the worse, as a person. , I would have made him as he would not like to be…
R. I don’t want to think too much about it. I mean, of course, when you win the Tour you have more obligations, more attention from the media, more haters, more fans, but that’s all part of this game, and as far as my life is concerned, I do what I did before, I train, I have fun, I’m comfortable in Monaco with my fiancée [Urska Zigart, también ciclista eslovena]and nothing much changes.
Q. Although you think about the Tour all year, doesn’t winning it become an obsession as it could happen to Pinot?
R. Maybe I will never feel the same as Pinot because in Slovenia we don’t have something as big as the Tour de France, and I think that for a French cyclist it is a little different than for those from outside to compete in the Tour. Perhaps that is what makes us different.
Q. Is losing terrible?
R. When I lose I don’t feel as good as when I win, of course, but losing is part of the sport, and the next day I go out trying to win again. It’s not terrible to finish second, third or even last, sometimes. Knowing that you are capable of being there, fighting with the best, is already a really good feeling.
Q. Along with magnificent victories for the way in which he achieved them, such as the Strade Bianche and the Tirreno, in 2022 he suffered three defeats, in San Remo, Flanders and the Tour, which, however, in a certain way made him great for the way in which who fought He lost by committing the sin of bravery…
R. When you do everything you can in the scenario that is presented to you, when you give your all, when you give more than 100%, when you lose you have to admit that there was someone better at that moment, and only think about doing better next time. .
Q. What did you think of the Galibier, in the last Tour, when you responded to all the attacks from Roglic and Vingegaard? Didn’t he think that maybe they were going to wear him down and that he wouldn’t have the strength in the end, as it happened?
R. Once I got into the trap I couldn’t get out because I didn’t know where who was and I just thought I’d do my best and move on. I tried not to spend too much when I went to attack but they are both very good, and their attacks are very hard. I tried to save the day but I knew it was going to be very difficult to win that day. It is one of the toughest stages I have run. We were flying all day.
Q. It is said that because you feel so strong, you have not developed the cunning of the weak, who gets into all the rags thinking that nothing can…
R. But that happened only one day. I’ve done so many races all year and every race is different. That happened one day. You can’t judge a person by what happened one day.
Q. And that day, in the last port, the Granon, he lost the Tour. He forgot to eat for real, as stated?
R. Do not forget me. Rather, I couldn’t. There was a provisioning in which I could not take a bottle, and in such a demanding stage one needs to eat very well, so much so that just by not taking a canister with Isocarb [dos partes de maltodextrina, una de fructosa], which contains 80 or 90 grams of carbohydrates, you are already lost. And when there is a big attack, like Jonas’s in the Granon, and he has to pedal full throttle, one cannot take gels or bars. It takes a lot of energy when you run full, full.
Q. Was that the key to the entire Tour?
R. Could be. Maybe yes.
Q. Nutritionists say that you need to eat up to 6,000 calories in sugars, proteins and carbohydrates on days like this, and that it is necessary to train the digestive system to burn them well. Do you train him?
R. My stomach is not the best, not yet. But I improve it, yes, during training. We train so hard that in training we need to eat a lot, get plenty of energy, and then in the race, the same. And with each race I feel better and better, and also the brand of our supplements, Enervit, gives us good products for the stomach. Nutrition is better every day in this sense, but you never know, the body can fail at any moment and you end up shitting your pants and you can’t do anything to avoid it.
Q. But it’s great that not everything is controllable. The body is not a machine…
R. Ha ha, nice… Let’s just say that sometimes the body says no and one can only suffer.
Q. Íñigo San Millán, your coach, says that every day you send him the file with all the data on your training and your body. Don’t you feel like a loss of privacy doing it? Isn’t it like stripping down?
R. He is my coach. He has to know everything. It is normal to send the data to the coach, especially if he does not control every day. And sometimes it’s better to do it, especially if you’ve had a good workout.
Q. The other day, the world champion, Remco Evenepoel, who is two years younger than you, said that he started winning so young that he doesn’t think his body can last beyond 30…
R. I agree. You never know. We run so hard from a young age that maybe one day, suddenly, the body will say, stop. But we’ll see how long we last. It is not something terrible, something to go crazy. It is simply that when things go wrong, you accept it and move on with your life in whatever it is.
Q. If he were not Slovenian, if he were from a country with more cycling weight, Belgium, Italy, perhaps he would think differently, he would be more concerned…
R. Perhaps the Spanish live with more pressure because they have the Vuelta, the Italians the Giro, the French the Tour, the Belgians their classics, but in Slovenia we are so few riders that in order to keep cycling growing we need to succeed more and more, so we also have our pressure. Each runner, yes, may have a different relationship with his flag.
Q. What goals do you have this year? Win everything that runs as usual?
R. Yes yes of course each and every race hahahaha. No, seriously, Sanremo and Flanders [los dos monumentos que no pudo ganar en 2022] they are the most important classics for me in spring, I will focus totally on them. Before that, I’ll prepare for Paris-Nice for a change, after always doing Tirreno, and surely I won’t do Strade Bianche. And then the Tour de France.
Q. The Return?
R. I’m not going to say anything about the Vuelta yet. Of course, I want to win it one year, but we’ll see.
Q. Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel, their great rivals in the classics last year, await him at the monuments. Did you see his fight in the Cyclocross World Championship?
R. Yes Yes i saw it. It was a fantastic race.
Q. And the fans are already licking their lips thinking about seeing the three of them fighting on the cobblestones…
R. I don’t know what they will do [ambos han confirmado que en sus planes entran San Remo y Flandes], but it has always been a joy and an honor to race against Wout and Van der Poel. They are the kind made cyclist.
Q. The three of them, and Evenepoel, also share the same race philosophy, attacking to win without fear of losing.
R. If you never try you will never know what could happen. The most spectacular wins come when you do something crazy, so I think this is the new mindset for a lot of riders coming into the peloton. We are going to see more and more crazy attacks from afar, running on instinct and all kinds of crazy things.
Q. If one day before attacking you discover yourself too rational, afraid of doing something crazy, what would happen?
R. The moment I stop being good, I’ll try to find another passion. Maybe I’ll be training youth, or something else, but, ufffI think there is a long way to go before I lose my attacking mentality.
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