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Why Tadej Pogačar winning Milan-San Remo is bad for cycling

14 Mar 2022

For the sake of cycling, can somebody please beat Tadej Pogačar

Words: Joe Robinson

The peloton is hurtling along the Ligurian coast at 60kmh. They hook a wide right into the bottom of the Cipressa. The pace remains high as the burly Classics men like Yves Lampaert and Luke Rowe flex their muscles at the front of the bunch. They tilt into the pedals, increase the power and string the bunch into a snaking line to prevent any attacks.

Then, ten riders back, you see him. His hair poking out of that Met helmet, wisping in the wind. He is bobbing out of the saddle, elbows tight, hips swaying like a Salsa dancer. His mouth is clasped shut despite the desperate need for oxygen. As the pace begins to naturally stabilise and daggers are shot across the climb to assess the situation, he strikes.

It’s Tadej Pogačar and he is here to win Milan-San Remo.

Julian Alaphilippe responds, as do Primož Roglič and Wout van Aert. Tom Pidcock comes to the front and he has Caleb Ewan in tow. But it’s too late. Pogačar has the gap now and it’s growing with every pedal stroke. Five seconds, ten seconds. They sit up as the cavalry fall into line to regroup and reconvene the donkey work.

They crest the Cipressa and return to the coast road. ‘We’ll catch him before the Poggio,’ those in the bunch think. They are wrong. ‘We’ll catch him at the top of the Poggio,’ Van Aert, Alaphilippe, Ewan and Pidcock all think. Wrong again.

Pogačar wins Milan-San Remo. A 35km solo break from the Cipressa. A win for the ages. The attack we’ve all pined for from a rider that is redefining the sport.

It’s two weekends later. We’re in Flanders for De Ronde. The race has ebbed and flowed over countless cobbled Flandrien climbs with natural selection having shelled all but the absolute best. We hit the bottom of the Oude Kwaremont for the final time and there he is again. Hair flopping out of his helmet vents, obnoxious Richard Mille watch strapped around his wrist.

It’s Tadej Pogačar and he is here to win Flanders.

He attacks, he gaps, he goes, he wins solo.

Flèche Wallonne. Alaphilippe is dancing up the Mur de Huy with Roglič and Alejandro Valverde in his wake. He closes in on the line only to be rounded in the final 100 metres.

It’s Tadej Pogačar and he is here to win Flèche Wallonne.

That Sunday, La Redoute, he goes again. It’s Tadej Pogačar and he is here to win Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

It’s the first mountain stage of the Tour de France and the Slovenian wonderkid has banked five minutes into all his GC rivals.

It’s Tadej Pogačar and he is here to win the Tour de France.

The Vuelta a España, the World Championships, the Tour of Guanxgi. You get the picture. Wherever Pogačar goes, a victory follows.

So far in 2022, Pogačar’s WorldTour record reads: two stage races, two GC wins (and four stage wins); one single-day race, one victory.

He looks completely infallible. Even when the race is won, he doesn’t rest on his laurels. There was no need for him ride away from Jonas Vingegaard, Mikel Landa and Richie Porte with 16km to go on Stage 6 of Tirreno-Adriatico, the race was already in the bag. But he did it anyway, because he could. He is never not racing and that is simply terrifying.

GCN’s Dan Lloyd tweeted some remarkable Pogačar stats over the weekend. Eight wins in his last nine WorldTour stage races. Victory in ten of the 16 stage races he has started as a pro. Not a single DNF in that time either, which means if you want to beat Pogačar, you better hope you can drop him because he isn’t falling sick or crashing out any time soon.

Pogačar is on another level right now. Nobody comes close to what he can do and at just 23 years old, he is only going to get better and I’m worried that this domination is never going to end.

Is he going to win six consecutive Tours? Is he going to win all five Monuments and all three Grand Tours and the World Championships? Is he going to start beating Fabio Jakobsen and Jasper Philipsen in bunch sprints? Is he going to win every race he ever enters?

I’m worried that Pogačar is going to turn up for Sevilla on Thursday night and bag a hat-trick to dump West Ham out of the Europa League. I’m terrified I’m going to head for bed one evening only to find Pogačar already snuggled up in my sheets wearing my M&S loungewear set.

Is this what watching Eddy Merckx was like? A man so superior to his contemporaries that cycling became a formality when finding its winner. A man who practically negated the spectacle of the sport by being so dominant of those around him. The only thing that stopped Merckx was a punch to the stomach by a particularly peeved French cycling fan who was sick and tired of watching yet another Merckx win. Is this what it’ll take to stop Pog?

One half of me watches Pogačar in absolute awe. This absolute specimen redefining what we thought was possible on two wheels. His ability to ride harder and faster than seemingly everyone over any terrain is utterly phenomenal. His mindset to enter every race with the ambition of winning is exemplary and his sheer brass neck to always be racing, always looking to extend his lead, never willing to defend to lead he already has, is enviable. I want to love him.

This while the other half of me watches in contempt as this one man ruins the sport I love.

Every time I switch on the TV to watch a race, there he is, just being better than everyone, and I cannot help but start to understand why that man took a swing at Merckx all those years ago. Why we are secretly a bit happy at Lionel Messi’s demise at PSG and why part of us might have been tempted to silently celebrate when Usain Bolt tore his hamstring at his final race in 2017. Plus, this is cycling, and its history has always told us to look at the best of the best with a healthy dose of scepticism, warranted or not.

This weekend Pogačar is going to Milan-San Remo and he is there to win, but for the sake of cycling I hope he doesn’t.