The stature of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia are so mythical in the sport that whenever a top GC rider puts both on his calendar, talk turns to whether they can accomplish winning both in the same season, not done since Marco Pantani in 1998.
But when you’re Tadej Pogačar, apparently that’s not enough. At a press conference in Abu Dhabi – ostensibly to announce that virtual training platform MyWhoosh (a UAE Team Emirates sponsor) would partner with the UCI – Pogačar was asked if he might try for the Giro-Tour-Vuelta España triple crown, which no one’s ever done in the same calendar year (that’s only slightly less amazing than it sounds as, prior to 1995, the Vuelta was held in spring close to or overlapping the Giro, making it impossible to do both).
“For now, I don’t think so. I’m not thinking about this,” he replied, with some in the media taking the “for now” part as a very Lloyd Christmas-style sign that he’s not ruling it out.
The bigger story is – well, OK, two stories. First, Pogačar absolutely is going for the double, which itself would be an amazing feat to pull off. “I want to do the Giro well and then I think I’m capable to do the Tour on a high level as well,” he said. This is not shocking; recall that Chris Froome won the 2018 Giro and then lost the Tour partly because his teammate, Geraint Thomas, won stage 11 and took yellow, which he’d hold until the end. Just because no one has managed to win both races in a quarter century doesn’t mean no one’s gotten close.
That’s significant because, when Pogačar confirmed in December that he’d race the Giro, it immediately raised questions about how that would affect his other competitive goals. Tour of Flanders defense? Nope. But if he’s not going to the Tour purely to hunt stages or build form for the Olympics, then something has to give, right? Pogačar offered a little more clarity on that in his press conference, suggesting that, after the Giro, the Tour was a clear priority over the Olympics.
The Paris road race “is not the best parcours” for his strengths, he suggested, “I’m not putting all my calendar around the Olympic Games.”
But, biggish story No. 2, another big one-day race this year might be a focus. “The main goal is the Giro, Tour, and the World Championships,” he said, where the 274 km course around Zurich features over 4,000 meters of climbing, before hedging that “it depends on the legs after the season, because I think it’s pretty late. But for sure, I’ll be around.”
To get there, he’ll take a slightly different route than years past. No UAE Tour for one, and his first road start may not come until March 2 at Strade Bianche. His schedule has, not surprisingly for a rider targeting the Giro, a heavy Italian flavor. “It’s a bit of a different approach this year,” he said. “I start a little late but not too late. It’s still a quite busy schedule with all the preparation, recon, and thinking about two Grand Tours.”
Speaking of preparation, cycling has been a sports science arms race the past decade, but Pogačar said that he doesn’t think UAE is materially behind its archrival, Visma-Lease a Bike, in that department. While Colnago came under some criticism last year from Tom Boonen (which he later walked back), Pogačar said he doesn’t feel he’s at a technical disadvantage. “Some teams will always have a better, I don’t know, jersey or some teams have better wheels or frames. But it all adds up. Teams have some things better and some things worse.”
That’s a busy year planned, and Pogačar suggested it might come at the cost of extracurricular activities like viral social media posts (“I have less time for this stuff,” he replied) or cyclocross, which he has raced at home in Slovenia. While he trained on the road recently with Mathieu van der Poel, he ruled out facing off against him in the mud anytime soon. “I could try one day but it’s not for me; I’d be lapped by Van der Poel in probably the first lap,” he said to laughter. “I can’t jump over the barriers and stuff like that. It would not be pretty.”
Ronan Mc Laughlin contributed to this story, mainly by attending the MyWhoosh presser but also for asking Tadej there if he is “the cycling Instagram memelord.”
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