A day after Tadej Pogačar did his best to break the Internet, or at least our little corner of it, with his announcement that he will race the 2024 Giro d’Italia, we here at Escape Collective have decided to debate the merits of his choice. It’s certainly a momentous decision, and one that will make May all the more entertaining – but is it the right decision?
That’s up to Pogačar himself, obviously, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have opinions, and at least some of us at Escape were pretty sad to see cycling’s brightest star make his announcement on Sunday. Others, however, seem to look more favorably on the decision, and that seemed like a great opportunity for us to engage in a duel of the takes, which is obviously the best way to approach any contentious subject.
In the “No, Pogačar shouldn’t race the Giro” corner, wearing the blue shorts, is Dane Cash. In the “Yes, Pogačar should race the Giro” corner, wearing the red shorts, is Joe Lindsey. Two cycling writers will enter the ring, and only you, dear reader, can decide who will emerge victorious from this high-stakes showdown.
Dane’s view: Tadej Pogačar is making the wrong call in deciding to race the Giro
After a 2022 Tour de France that made for a dramatic first season of Unchained and then a 2023 Tour that I believe will go down in history as one of the best of the 21st century, was it too much to ask for the Tour excitement to grow even more next year?
Apparently, it was. Tadej Pogačar has decided to race the Giro d’Italia next season, and make no bones about it, that decision will rob us of a chance to see the sport’s two biggest GC stars battling it out at full strength at the 2024 Tour. Sorry Tadej. It’s up to you where you want to race, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it – and I hate it.
I get it, Pogačar wants to race the Giro at some point. He’s also targeting the Olympics this year, so why not kill two birds with one stone and focus on both non-Tour objectives in the same year? Given where the Giro and the Tour are on the calendar, going all-in for the Tour alone probably won’t make for ideal preparation, so this seems like as good a year as any to target the Giro … except that Pogačar’s decision will dilute the competition at the event that defines our sport for the rest of the world, and no other racing goal is worth that in my mind.
If Pogačar weren’t a Tour contender, nobody would begrudge him focusing on other races, obviously, but the sport needs the two-time Tour winner, the only person who might be able to go toe-to-toe with Vingegaard, to do so to stave off the threat of boredom at what should be cycling’s biggest spectacle.
Personally, I think it’d be great if the rest of the world took notice of the many amazing events on the cycling calendar. The Tour of Flanders, which Pogačar won last year, is my favorite race! But nothing we can do or say will change the fact that the Tour de France is a massively bigger deal than any other bike race, with far greater viewership. The Giro is a fun first Grand Tour of the year, and it’s beautiful and has a legendary history almost as old as the Tour’s – but the Tour is the Tour, as they say.
As long as that remains the case, anyone with a real chance at winning it should be fully focused on trying to. That is what is best for the health of the sport, for bringing in new fans, and for our own entertainment.
Barring some kind of crash or illness, we’ll likely see Jonas Vingegaard cruise to a third straight Tour title at the helm of a powerhouse Visma squad, because the Giro-Tour double just isn’t feasible in this day and age. I am as sure that a fatigued Pogačar can’t challenge a healthy Vingegaard as I am that nobody else in the peloton can either. And who knows how long we’ll have this potential matchup of powerhouses anyway? Youth is fleeting, and when you only have so many years as a potential Tour contender, you should treat every one like it’s your last.
Instead, Pogačar is aiming for the Giro, and so after the last two Tours and the accompanying Netflix coverage have helped attract new excitement to our sport, that excitement is almost certain to weaken come July. Vingegaard will probably run away with a race bereft of GC drama because Pogačar decided to focus on other goals instead. Instead of building momentum on the back of multiple great spectacles, we will face the very real risk of seeing the hype train stall amid a Vingegaard-dominated 2024 Tour de France, and not even a more-entertaining Giro and Olympic road race can make up for that.
Joe’s view: There’s way more to life than the Tour de France
The immediate reaction to the UAE Team Emirates announcement on Sunday that Tadej Pogačar would race the Giro d’Italia seemed to be mild disappointment, as Dane outlines above. The calendar choice clears a key obstacle to Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour de France, goes the thinking. And the squad of hitters UAE is assembling around Pogi – which includes Juan Ayuso, João Almeida, and Adam Yates, who finished 4th, 3rd, and 3rd in their major Grand Tour campaigns of 2023 – all but ensures a Giro win for the Slovenian against a likely lesser field than in 2023. In that view, two of the three Grand Tours are already a lot less suspenseful than before the announcement.
Me? I love it.
For starters, as we saw at this year’s Giro, nothing is for certain at that race, ever. From Remco Evenepoel’s early dominance and overnight Covid-19 DNF to snow-shortened stages to Primož Roglič’s come-from-behind win on stage 20, little about the 2023 edition went exactly to anyone’s plan.
And, Pogačar’s full schedule does still include the Tour. He’ll almost certainly not be vying for the overall win, but that doesn’t mean he’s a non-factor. As an aside, any idea that Pog’s Giro focus automatically means a Vingegaard win underestimates the likely presence of one Primož Roglič, no longer Vingegaard’s teammate but his direct rival.
Past that, Pogačar has shown some pretty strong signs of being a prankster and, personally, I hope he channels his inner Loki to full extent in July. Just as the UAE team claimed a dual-leader strategy in 2023 (which worked well in the early stages), Pogačar should keep rivals guessing as to his true intentions. He’s already refused to rule out a possible Giro-Tour double and, while I think that possibility is unlikely, I appreciate the plausible deniability gamesmanship. If he keeps it up, Pogačar can not only accomplish his own objectives at both races, he can also play kingmaker of sorts at the Tour: a fierce attack draws out Jonas, marked by Primož, who then goes on to … it’s Grand Tour choose-your-own-adventure.
Pogačar’s own goals, of course, also include said Olympics. They also seem to include a lot of RCS races, so it’s entirely possible that RCS, known for paying start money to big-name riders, loaded up on Pogačar at Costco last weekend. When golfer Jon Rahm is justifying a hypocritical switch to LIV Golf by saying it was “what was best for me and my family” (yeah, $300 million has that effect), who could blame Pog for wanting to do everything he can to secure his own future by locking in a little extra cash?
A less-cynical – albeit not mutually exclusive – read is that Pogačar’s schedule also includes a fair bit of novelty: races he’s either not done, or done but not won: Milan-San Remo, the Giro, and of course the Olympics and World Road Championships are all prestigious events not counted among his 63 career victories.
Pogačar has always been a rider who seeks novelty and competitive breadth and variety, as he showed in romping to the Flanders win in 2023. He has the opposite of the single-minded, single-race focus of a rider like Vingegaard, who builds his entire season around the Tour. I’d be unsurprised if – should Pogačar accomplish goals in the next few years like winning a Giro, Vuelta a España, and world and Olympic titles – he hangs it up at 30; I don’t see a Valverde-style long goodbye.
For all that Pogačar’s calendar choices might detract (somewhat? A little? Maybe?) from this year’s Tour, they add back to the sport in all kinds of other ways, giving the calendar a more balanced competitive weight that, quite honestly, is healthier for the sport.
A Pogačar battling it out at Strade Bianche with Tom Pidcock, or Milan-San Remo with big-bodied Classics riders and sprinters, or maybe getting that Liège-Bastogne-Liège matchup with Evenepoel we were denied this year are all fantastic for fans.
And while the Olympics is often a half-step below the Tour for racer and fan interest, this year may be an exception. The road course in urban Paris promises to be visually stunning, with vistas of the iconic Seine riverfront and three ascents of a circuit past the Sacre Coeur Basilica before an Eiffel Tower finish. But the punchy course, with almost 3,000 meters of climbing, will also be wide open and impossible to control for a 90-rider peloton. With names such as Pogačar, Wout van Aert, and Mathieu van der Poel all vying for gold, it’s on my watchlist for potentially the best one-day race of the year, not to mention one that may be as widely watched as the Tour.
I’ll give up a bit of GC interest at the Tour in service of watching Pogačar target five other major races including the Giro. Pogačar’s 2024 calendar has the makings of a fascinating, season-long campaign that will captivate fan interest regardless of its success. As a fan of bike racing, all of it, I’m all for it.
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