Tadej Pogacar, the ardor of youth

Young Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, soon to be 22, is preparing to win his first Tour de France on Sunday, ahead of his compatriot Primoz Roglic. Portrait of a cycling prodigy who does not know the word “impossible” and is not afraid of anyone.

Except spectacular and improbable turnaround, Tadej Pogacar will raise his arm Sunday, September 20 in Paris for a historic coronation in more than one way. He will become the first runner to bring three tunics to Paris: the winner’s yellow, the best youngster’s white and the best climber’s polka-dot jersey.

He will also dethrone the fallen prince Egan Bernal, who had to give up at the end of the sixteenth stage, as the youngest winner of the post-war period. He will celebrate his 22nd birthday on Monday.

Finally, he becomes, with the nose and beard of his compatriot Primoz Roglic, yellow jersey for twelve days, the first Slovenian to win the Tour de France. A victory that he owes to his offensive temperament and his steel mind which will have made him persevere even in the most difficult moments.

Never give up

On his chances of erasing the 57-second deficit which separated him from the yellow jersey on the eve of the decisive time trial of the Planche des Belles Filles, Pogacar replied: “It’s always possible, but it would be really incredible to win the Tour tomorrow (Saturday). “

And since he didn’t know it was impossible, he did it. Pogacar left Primoz Roglic by 1.56 seconds, who had been wearing the yellow jersey since the ninth stage and whose control of the team seemed complete.

Tadej Pogacar won after a badly started Tour de France. During the seventh stage, he lost more than a minute on the favorites. But, with sharp attacks in the final climbs, he was able to catch up and win three stages, at Laruns, at the Grand Colombier and finally the resounding one of the Planche des Belles Filles.

“Tadej has a big mind”, appreciated, after his number to Loudenvielle, his teammate and compatriot Jan Polanc.

“On the Tour, anyone would be afraid of names like Bernal, Valverde … and stay in the squad to see what happens. But Tadej is not afraid of anyone,” his first coach, Miha Koncilja, told AFP. in his debut club KD Rog in Ljubljana.

According to him, Pogacar’s very aggressive way of running was forged in the youth categories. “As the year 1998 was a generation of talents in Slovenia, all the races were a fireworks display. One of them attacked, another countered. It was that without stop”, describes Miha Koncilja, still coach, of the U17 and U19, in the same club in the capital.

Too small for the material

Unlike his compatriot Primoz Roglic, who started cycling late, Tadej Pogacar developed a passion for cycling very early on. He wants to follow his older brother who has a license. But, at the age of 9, Tadej cannot find a bicycle to his size in the club, which ends up buying him one. And height will be a problem for the teenager for a long time, who now stands at 1.76 m.

“He was much shorter than children his age, 10 or 15 centimeters shorter. At 12 or 13, it was impossible to compete with them. He had to fight nonstop to stay in touch with others,” says Miha. Koncilja to AFP.

He caught the eye of recruiters very quickly: “One day, I arrived late for a race. It was a loop in several laps”, likes to tell Andrej Hauptman, former Slovenian rider, who took it under his wing. “I saw a very frail young kid being passed by a big peloton. I told the organizers that something had to be done to help this young rider. The organizers told me I had nothing Understood. It was this young man who was one step ahead of the rest of the pack. Incredible! That prodigy was Tadej Pogacar. “

Sports director at UAE-Emirates, it is he who allows his recruitment at the end of 2018 within this training which evolves in World Tour, the highest professional level. The perfect ground to do your scales and sharpen your thighs. The young Pogacar has a card to play to win because if the Emirati formation has emeritus sprinters (Gaviria, Kristoff), the leaders of the stage races are struggling to have results.

“When his head wants something, his legs bend to it”

And Tadej Pogacar got results very quickly. He finished third in junior at the 2016 European Championships. He won the Giro della Lunigiana, a stage race for juniors held in Italy that has some prestigious names on its list: Damiano Cunego, Vincenzo Nibali and, in 2018, a certain Remco Evenepoel. He repeated at the Tour de l’Avenir, a mini Tour de France version of hopes, on which Egan Bernal had revealed himself.

“We understood that he really had something special at that time. Then he surprised us every year,” Miha Koncilja told AFP.

An ambitious and conquering state of mind, underlined by Jaka Primozic, his childhood friend questioned by Liberation : “He only does what he wants. When his head wants something, his legs bend to it. Tadej could put on ten Nutella pancakes on the morning of the Mediterranean Games before putting us in misery on the bike. “

Third in the Tour of Spain

His first World Tour success, he won on the roads of the Tour of California in 2019 at only 20 years old. He then outclasses all the favorites in the ascent of Mount Baldy during the queen stage. Too young to drink alcohol in the United States, he is not allowed champagne to savor his first success in a World Tour stage race. He must be satisfied with the plush.

“His youth is an advantage, says Miha Koncilja. He doesn’t feel any pressure and still loves cycling. It’s not just his job but his passion and his lifestyle.” Including her love life: her partner Urska Zigart is also a professional cyclist and competed at the same time as her companion in the women’s Giro.

Before the Tour de France, the young Slovenian had only one experience on a Grand Tour: the Vuelta 2019 where he finished with a bang: three stage victories and a third place behind his compatriot Primoz Roglic.

Youth take power

A compatriot with whom a distant duel then takes place. In the Slovenian time trial championships, he managed to win for the first time against the 30-year-old. Then, on the Grande Boucle, he again became Roglic’s number one rival. His team may be weakened by two withdrawals (Aru and Formolo), he manages to stand up to the Jumbo-Visma armada, supported by David de la Cruz alone.

>> Also read: “Tour de France: the insolent superiority of the Jumbo-Visma and their ‘total cycling'”

Primoz Roglic was he too kind to his compatriot? He swears not and has probably erred on the side of a wait-and-see attitude. Moreover, it would be an insult to Pogacar to believe that he owes his victory only to an error of his now runner-up. The young Slovenian went to look for it on his own, with offensives. He can savor his triumph.

Youth take power. Tadej Pogacar, Marc Hirschi, Daniel Martinez and Lennard Kämna: the Tour de France already had four stage winners under 25 before Paris. This is as much as in the five previous editions combined – the illustration of a fundamental movement in cycling.

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