Tadej Pogačar: I’m used to the media and competitors trying to undermine UAE’s Giro d’Italia team

Maglia rosa defends his Giro d'Italia team as mind games keep the race stewing on the first rest day

Clock16:15, Monday 13th May 2024
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) leads the Giro d'Italia after nine stages of racing

© Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) leads the Giro d'Italia after nine stages of racing

If only Tadej Pogačar could see it the way the rest of us do: that when questions are raised about the validity and depth of his UAE Team Emirates squad at this year’s Giro d’Italia, it’s usually because those looking for weakness are clutching at straws and often comparing the seven riders that shepherd the maglia rosa through Italy to the unique race leader. In many ways it's compliment, not a slight.

Siting 2:40 ahead of his nearest competitor in the overall standings, Pogačar has been untouchable in the race so far, winning a third of the opening nine stages and even having time to redeploy his climbing and TT skills into leading out sprinter Sebastián Molano. The only trick he hasn't accomplished just yet is turning back time and slipping into the white jersey as the best young rider but the race is young, so give it time.

And it’s certainly not his teammates’ fault that they’re human. 

Still, on the first rest day in Pompei, the Slovenian was asked about the question marks that have dogged his team since it was announced on the eve of the race.

“I’m used to the media and my competitors who try and undermine us and that we don’t have a good team. I think everyone can say this but we’ve proved over and over again that we’re one of the best teams,” he said.

Read more: Giro d'Italia: Is Tadej Pogačar's only weakness his own team?

It’s unclear if Pogačar truly is riled by the criticism or whether this latest act was a subtle way of galvanising the already doggedly loyal support around him as the race enters its tricky second week.

“Even if we’re not all the biggest names of the UAE team we’re still working so well and everyone is giving 100 percent. I’m super happy to be part of it and have this great atmosphere in the race and at the dinner table. We’re like a family. It shows on the road that we’re really strong,” he added.

It’s true, UAE Team Emirates isn’t the most glamorous collective in this year’s race, and valuable assets have been saved for July’s payload when Pogačar will look to become the first rider since 1998 to complete an improbable Grand Tour double.

Read more: Tadej Pogačar: 'It’s a little bit shit' when the media says I can’t be beaten at the Giro d’Italia

His squad, however, have been robust when needed, have saved resources when required and raced the route laid out in front of them with a pragmatic mindset. On the gravel stage earlier in the race, for instance, they followed the wheels of Ineos Grenadiers and saved their strength for the long game that will undoubtedly play out in the final week, when the Giro will reach its ragged conclusion.

Pogačar, for all his early dominance and emphatic stage wins thus far, knows that this race is not run, and Ineos Grenadiers’ superior core of super-domestique climbers – in comparison to UAE’s – could come to the fore and cause more problems than they’ve displayed so far.

“Luckily the first week went super well for me on the climbs and in the time trial, so I could take some time on my competitors but I think that we should be prepared, especially for the third week, with the competitors, and with big attacks from them, especially with Ineos, with Thymen Arensmen and Geraint [Thomas]. They have good hands to play but otherwise, I think it’s going to be hard racing all over the stages. Anything can happen and I just need to be ready to have a mindset for the stages and keep pushing until the end, even if I have a bad day. That’s why it’s good to have that time gap,” the Slovenian said.

For everything you need to know about the 2024 Giro d'Italia, from the history of the race to this year's route and start list, be sure to check out our dedicated race hub.

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