Riding is Life


Calm, confident, and 5 minutes ahead: Pogačar is ‘mentally ready’ for the Tour

Pogačar returned to racing at the Slovenian time trial national championships and things went pretty well.

Photo: Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos © 2023

The wrist is solid, the form is clearly good. Almost exactly two months after he fractured his wrist in a crash at Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Tadej Pogačar won in his first race back, taking the Slovenian national time trial title by more than five minutes over Marko Pavlič. The time trial was only half an hour long. 

Pavlič, with all due respect, is no Jonas Vingegaard. But a successful first hit out after two months spent recovering is an important milestone. So too is the confidence and calm Pogačar exuded throughout the day, barely over a week away from a crucial and difficult opening stage of the Tour de France. 

“For sure it gives me confidence,” Pogačar told Escape Collective’s Kate Wagner after his finish. “I feel that I’m mentally ready, mentally more prepared, more fresh.” 

The wrist? It’s not bothering him. “This weekend will be finalizing the speed and the nationals are perfect to open up the legs and the lungs,” he said. 

Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates team is happy with what they’re seeing too. “For now, everything is ok. He doesn’t feel any pain,” Andrej Hauptman, Pogačar’s sport director, told Wagner. “He’s not 100% yet, but he can race. We will see in the race [Sunday], in the descents the wrist is more important.”

Pogačar and Urška Žigart, the other half of cycling’s premier power couple, both took home their Slovenian national time trial titles just ahead of respective runs at the Tour de France. They hung around the finish line, congratulating other riders from pro and amateur categories as they finished. They compared tanlines and power numbers off their head units. 

That comfort and confidence with the Tour closing in are good signs for anybody hoping Pogačar will put up a serious fight against Vingegaard and his incredible Jumbo-Visma team, because there will be no easing into this year’s Tour de France. The opening two days of the Tour, which starts Saturday July 1, traverse the sharp, steep grades of the Basque Country. 

The first stage takes in 3,300 meters (10,000 feet) of climbing in a large loop starting and finishing in Bilbao. The final climb, the last in a series of four in the last 60 km, is the Côte de Pike, a nasty kicker that averages 10% over 2 km. To further increase the importance of that climb, there are bonus seconds (8-5-2) available for the first three riders over the top. 

Stage two is only slightly easier, borrowing a finale from the San Sebastian one-day race usually won by a climber, and again with bonus seconds at the top of the final climb, the well-known Jaizkibel. 

From there, Tour organizers give the peloton few extended rests until Paris. This year’s route never goes more than two days without some sort of general classification jeopardy. Pogačar and Vingegaard, plus all their challengers, will need to be 100% from stage 1 to stage 20. 

Pogačar returned to riding outside at the end of May and attended an altitude camp in early June, just as Vingegaard was ripping up the Criterium du Dauphiné. He normally races the Tour of Slovenia as his final Tour de France preparation, but this year Thursday’s time trial was one of two race days Pogačar will get in before the Tour start. The second will be the national road race on Sunday. That will be the final test for a wrist that was operated on two months ago.

“I will give it everything because it’s the last day of racing for the big showdown in Bilbao,” Pogačar said of Sunday. “It’s going to be fun and interesting.”

It might seem obvious but yes, Kate Wagner is at the Slovenian national championships and contributed reporting, because she’s awesome like that.

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