Tadej Pogačar dressed head to toe in pink as leader of the Giro celebrates stage 15 victory at the 2024 Giro d'Italia.

All hail King Pogačar the Pink

Where were you when...?

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) wins stage 15 of the 2024 Giro d’Italia. Photo: © Cor Vos

I’m the first to admit that I get easily jaded by dominance. If you’d told me before the Giro d’Italia that Tadej Pogačar would lead the race by 6:41 after 15 stages, winning four including a time trial along the way, I might have sighed and switched off before you tried to tell me how, miffed but unsurprised.

However, today we witnessed something pretty extraordinary, and you know what? All credit to him.

Pogačar has been on the attack since day one, taking his first win on stage 2, and then his second, and third … his fourth (ever) Giro win, though, is the most impressive so far, and I would even say it might be up there with the top performances of his career.

In his attack on Sunday’s stage 15, the still-very-young Slovenian proved once and for all – as if that was necessary – that he is in his own race at this Giro. His margin of supremacy over the pink jersey was already at a high by modern standards before the Queen Stage, and in just 15 kilometres, it went from 3:41 to 6:41 between him and second-overall Geraint Thomas; with one week to go, there are only six riders within ten minutes of pink.

Hyperbole is overused in sports journalism. Words like ‘epic’ and ‘heroic’ are never far from print, especially when Grand Tours reach altitude or Classics hit weathered cobbles. But sometimes, maybe three to five times a season, it’s justified. And though I’m sure some or many will disagree, calling Sunday’s performance and his dominance boring, I found myself transfixed by his powerful pedal strokes and the impossible smile as he climbed ever closer to the finish.

Tadej Pogačar dressed head to toe in pink as leader of the Giro climbs through fans on his way to stage 15 victory at the 2024 Giro d'Italia.
Never mind the up-to-19% gradients, Pogačar wore a smile for many of the last few kilometres, perhaps cheered himself by his good form and fortune.

Rafał Majka was the last clear sign a move was coming, the Polish climber now a specialist at few-kilometre all-out efforts before unleashing his leader. It was so quick that there almost wasn’t time to register what was happening before the pink skinsuit erupted off the wheel and surged towards the camera bike. Within a minute, he was out of sight, and within two kilometres he was edging over a minute up the road.

It’s hard to call it ‘exciting’ as such. There’s very little thrill in seeing the predictable happen, even if it happens so much sooner than expected. What was surprising was the advantage he so quickly gained over his closest GC rivals.

Geraint Thomas told media at the summit that “Everyone just let Pog go and do his thing,” leaving the GC group to play “cat and mouse” in the race for second. But even so, the rate of his climb and the ease he seemed to exhibit were undeniable as he reeled in breakaway riders Georg Steinhauser then Nairo Quintana, and continued up the violently steep virgin tarmac (laid on the ski slope just days ago) that brought the stage to an end.

It brings to mind the astonishing attack he made on stage 8 of his second Tour de France, laying the foundations for back-to-back titles a year after stunning Roglič in the 2020 time trial. One of the features of that day was the grim weather, but it didn’t stop him from making an unlikely long-distance move on the penultimate climb, racing after the breakaway to finish fourth on the stage and pull on the yellow jersey.

Tadej Pogačar in the white jersey of best young rider soaked through in the rain during stage 8 of the 2021 Tour de France.
Pogačar gained 3:25 over his main rivals with his devil-may-care attack in the rain at the 2021 Tour, including Jonas Vingegaard who would eventually finish second after the abandon of team leader Primož Roglič who finished third from last on this stage following a heavy crash, and did not start stage 9.

Fortune favours the brave, and that move was certainly brave, though not uncharacteristic based on earlier performances at the highest level, including at the 2019 Vuelta a España where he won an attention-grabbing three stages as a Grand Tour debutant.

This weekend’s effort was different, though. He didn’t need to attack – in fact, wise heads might suggest he didn’t bother if he’s to target the Giro-Tour double as promised – but he could. So he did.

There’s always a scourge of comparisons when a Pogačar or a Van der Poel, or Evenepoel, Vingegaard, Van Aert does something magnificent that dims the lights on the rest of the peloton. The next Eddy Merckx? Any comparison is near impossible to make – unless you have statistics to play with à la Cavendish, and even then, the conclusion is tough to swing in the modern rider’s favour – but in the context of our current era, Pogačar keeps chipping away at his own legacy, carving himself into cycling’s history with one spectacle after another.

He’s going to do the double now, isn’t he?

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