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Anyone out there who watched Tadej Pogacar destroy Primoz Roglic on the penultimate stage of the 2020 Tour won’t be forgetting it anytime soon. If I remember correctly, Pogi was wearing a highway robber’s mask and had a musket stuck in his back pocket, though I may be embellishing the tale slightly. It was a hatchet job, violent in its beauty, perfect in execution, dazzling in its artistry and, well, just cheeky as f#ck.

The physical definition of bewilderment…

Pogacar was here. But how did he get there? Alone, mostly.

His UAE teammates had fallen by the wayside as the Tour went into the mountains. Jumbo Visma looked supreme, controlling the race and proving to be the dominant team – but they did not have the dominant rider. Yes, Pogacar put in the ride of his life to overtake Roglic in the time trial, but he had ridden without teammates through the hills, selecting wheels, picking his moments, following on the coat tails of others.

It showed some serious intelligence and poise for one so young.

Back at the Tour in 2022 and early on he showed us and his peers that he was in no mood for messing about. On Stage 8, the first day in the mountains, he took off with some 30km to go and broke the back of his would-be rivals. A certain Jonas Vingegaard lost over 3 minutes to the Slovenian that day.

It was a tour de force at the Tour de France.

I wonder how many times that line has been written?!

At the 2021 Tour, Pogacar had Brandon McNulty on his team and though the American could accompany Pogacar at times, he was unable to do so at others. It could be argued – actually it was obvious – that Pogacar was so strong that he barely needed a team. Such was his dominance, it seemed, that he would go on to take a record 6 Tour wins and be hailed as the greatest Tour rider of all time.

Yet there was Vingegaard. He was unable to hold onto Pogi on Stage 8 but the Dane, who was originally supposed to be riding as a super-domestique for Roglic until he crashed out – looked to blossom as the race went on. It seemed as though the pressure of being elevated to leader suited him. He rode very well throughout the rest of the Tour and finished 2nd, yet was still a rather whopping 5.20″ down on Pogacar.

2022, we all know what happened at that Tour. Jumbo Visma rocked up with one of the strongest teams ever seen at a Tour and they had a plan, one which unfolded with some serious panache on Stage 11.

This was one of the best stages I’ve ever seen. Attack after attack came from Jumbo’s wasps, Roglic would go, Pogi would chase, then JV went and Pogi had to scramble again – alone. And up the road was Van Aert, waiting to aid his team leader. WVA worked like a gladiator for Vingegaard, and Pogi held on. Until he couldn’t.

4km to go to the top and the great Slovenian cracked. The Dane went on to win the stage and put a dent in the Legend of Pogi.

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Over the next five stages, Pogacar repeatedly attacked Vingegaard but the Dane was able to respond each time. The race headed to the Pyrenees with Pogacar facing a deficit of almost two and a half minutes to Vingegaard. Pogacar tried to attack, valiantly, but Vingegaard was his equal now.

How the tables had turned. Vingegaard won the Tour by 2.43″.

Maybe this guy who didn’t need a team actually did need a team after all.

Right after the 2022 Tour the management at UAE Emirates got to work on identifying riders that could strengthen the team. Pogacar commented on the process towards the end of 2022 after contracts had been signed.

“We’ve got some great new teammates for 2023. UAE Team Emirates are getting stronger and stronger every year,” Pogacar said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with the new guys, training together, racing together in the early season and then targeting the main goals together. I’m enthusiastic about next season.”

So far the big addition looks to be Adam Yates. The Englishman surprised everyone to take Yellow on Stage 1 at this Tour, but something in a comment he made after told me that he is 100% riding for his leader. When asked about holding onto Yellow for himself, he said “No, the priority is Tadej, he’s the big boss, the best.”

There was reverence in that comment. It’s possible we will see Yates have one of his best Tours due to having the burden of leadership removed from his shoulders. Another useful signing was Felix Großschartner, who was the GC rider for Bora until he switched to UAE. With two top tens at the Vuelta, he is similar to Yates – very experienced, good enough to ride with the very best on his day, and now riding to a very clear set of guidelines.

Rafał Majka has been with the team since 2021 and is a good climber, though for the past two Tours he was kind of given a free hand. This has changed now. Vingegaard not only shocked Pogi and his team management last year, he also impressed them – as did his team. They need all hands to the pumps.

The Dane, though he looks like an underfed 12 year old lost in a supermarket, is a hell of a rider in his own right. Perhaps Pogi was a little complacent in 2022 and didn’t respect Vingegaard enough and let his guard down in training and in the race.

It looks though that Pogacar has not made that mistake again, as he looks super sharp this year, as his spring season proved.

Jumbo poked the Pogi last year. This year he is looking to reassert his supremacy, and now he’s got a better and more coherent support system behind him – just in case he needs them.

Author: Lee Rodgers

Cycling coach, race organiser, former professional cyclist and the original CrankPunk.

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