Don’t assume that Tadej Pogacar will win even more big races than last year
It’s fair to say Tadej Pogacar had a pretty tidy 2021.
As well as winning the Tour de France for the second year in a row, he also took two of the five Monuments. In April he edged out World Champion Julian Alaphilippe in Liege-Bastogne-Liege and then, right at the end of the year – at a point when my family was working its way through two winters’ worth of illnesses in the space of a month (which is why I didn’t write anything about it) – he followed that up with the Tour of Lombardy.
And now, in 2022, he’s already winning again, taking Strade Bianche and in so doing adding to that race’s ever-burgeoning reputation.
Pogacar’s first win on the white gravel roads of the race that apparently now bills itself as “the southernmost Northern Classic” was achieved not on the final short slope where Mathieu van der Poel dispensed with Alaphilippe last year but about 50km earlier when he first struck out alone.
The manner of the win was variously described as incredible, stunning, scintillating, epic and imperious, and there is a widespread sense that the Slovenian is currently just scooting around the world winning whatever races he feels like.
That view is, on the face of it, supported by the fact that this win followed victory in the UAE Tour last month. Pogacar does ride for UAE Team Emirates though so it’s perhaps no great surprise he should be in top form at a time when others perhaps aren’t.
There were a few names missing from the Strade Bianche start list too. Van der Poel didn’t take part this year, for one thing. Nor did Egan Bernal, who was third last year.
The situation with Bernal is a salutary lesson in not throwing forward and pencilling riders in for scores of future victories – in fact I said as much in my headline back when he won the 2019 Tour de France.
The Colombian withdrew from the 2020 Tour with back pain and while he subsequently won the 2021 Giro d’Italia, he had a hell of a crash in training this winter. In his own words he suffered: “Almost 20 broken bones. Eleven ribs, femur, kneecap, T5-T6, odontoid fracture, metacarpal, a thumb, lost a tooth, both lungs perforated.”
Recalling the circumstances, Bernal said: “I was going 58[km/h]. I start looking and it was 59, 60, 61, 62, and it was when I saw that speed that I crashed into the bus.
“I crashed into the bus at 62 kilometres per hour. The bus was still.”
Bernal reckons he had a 95% chance of becoming paraplegic. That hasn’t happened. 24 days later he was riding a stationary recumbent bike at home.
Whether he can recover the form that earned him those two Grand Tour victories is quite another matter though. Chris Froome has successfully returned to pro cycling after his broken bones, but he has not been the rider he was.
I’m not saying that Tadej Pogacar is necessarily going to plough into a stationary bus at 40mph or get blown into a wall while taking a look at a time trial course, but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that no-one’s life is defined by relentless untroubled progress. Road cycling is a tough sport. No-one gets long at the top.
Oh, incidentally, 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde got away on that final climb to take second place
The parallel spring stage races of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico are now underway. It’s always a bit weird having two “World Tour” races overlapping each other, but it’s also just about the only time in the year when pretty much every big name rider is out racing.
After that, it’s the first Monument of the season, Milan-Sanremo, and then all the other Spring Classics in the weekends after that.
One way or another, I’ll try and do a recap of all of that before the Giro d’Italia gets underway at the start of May – I’m just not sure exactly how I’ll break it down. I think it’s good to group a bunch of races together and tackle them in one article, but then I also sometimes end up with too much to cover and what ensues is too long and thin.
I’ll do something though. Sign up for the email to have it arrive in your inbox .