Tadej Pogačar: Primož Roglič brings Bora-Hansgrohe to the level of Jumbo and UAE

Slovenian talks his 2024 ambitions, the evolution of Juan Ayuso and his friendly rivalry with Mathieu van der Poel

Clock10:43, Friday 3rd November 2023
Tadej Pogačar was the highest ranking cyclist at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium, in the absence of Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard

© ASO (Danial Hakim)

Tadej Pogačar was the highest ranking cyclist at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium, in the absence of Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard

Wind the clock back to three years ago and Slovenia was at the top of cycling’s pyramid, with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) a Tour de France champion for the first time and his great rival - and compatriot - Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) the newly-crowned two-time Vuelta a España winner. It seemed their rivalry would define a generation at the Tour de France, but their battles have never since reached Paris.

Instead, Roglič’s teammate Jonas Vingegaard has taken on his mantle at the Tour and proved himself not only a match for Pogačar, but perhaps the better Grand Tour specialist. Such was Roglič’s tumble down the pecking order in the past couple of years, that Jumbo-Visma were content to negotiate his departure to Bora-Hansgrohe ahead of 2024, but Pogačar himself believes that the 34-year-old is still a force to be reckoned with come next July at the Tour.

“With Primož going to Bora-Hansgrohe, this brings Bora to the level of Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates as well I think, and it already adds a lot more teams that you need to put into the equation for Grand Tours,” Pogačar insisted to GCN and other members of the media at the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium last weekend. “It is not going to be easy for anybody.”

'If I make my programme, I won’t win a lot of races!’

Whilst enigmatic and fearless on the bike, Pogačar is cautious with his words during a pair of group interviews with the media in Singapore. The 25-year-old is relaxed, but careful with what he says, and despite the best efforts of those in attendance, no one is quite able to pin Pogačar down on his calendar preferences for 2024, with the UAE Team Emirates frontman instead turning to humour to shrug off the questions posed.

“If I make the programme myself, I will not win a lot of races probably,” he laughed. “For me, I go with the flow. I like racing, I love the Tour de France, but I would like to do the Giro and the Vuelta [as well].”

Pogačar’s Grand Tour programme has consisted of only the Tour de France for the last three seasons in succession, proving triumphant in 2021 before a couple of runner-up spots behind Vingegaard.

With the Giro d’Italia’s organisers increasingly keen to tempt Pogačar to Italy, and the Vuelta a España holding special significance as the Slovenian’s breakthrough race in 2019, attention has quickly mounted as to when he may stray from his Tour de France residency.

“We will see,” was Pogačar’s response to the Giro question, but until he reclaims his crown in France, it is unlikely that his team bosses will allow attention to be diverted from the year’s biggest race.

“The team decides in the end. They are the boss. The team have the brains for the programme, not me,” Pogačar admitted. “We are the riders, we are here to ride the bike, to win races and the bosses, sports directors… they decide. They need to plan for 30 riders, you cannot plan only for yourself and not think about the rest, so the decision always needs to come from the team.”

Read more: I would rate the Tour de France route a 9/10, says Tadej Pogačar

Whether it be the Giro-Tour double, Tour-Vuelta double or just the Tour alone, UAE Team Emirates will be desperate to bring him a Grand Tour title in 2024 after a year spent watching Jumbo-Visma dominate the three-week races. The UAE-backed outfit may have claimed the prize of no.1 WorldTeam just a couple of weeks ago, but Pogačar is not alone in hoping that this won’t be the highlight of their 2024 campaign.

“They [Jumbo-Visma] won all three [Grand Tours] this year, but I don’t think this can happen too many times consecutively,” mooted Pogačar. “It would be pretty strange if they repeat the same next year.”

Pogačar believes Juan Ayuso is growing as both a rider and person

When attention turned to how UAE Team Emirates may counteract Jumbo-Visma’s stranglehold on the WorldTour stage races, the Spanish media were quick to float Juan Ayuso’s name as a potential teammate for Pogačar at next year’s Tour, given the 21-year-old’s recent comments to that effect to EFE news agency.

For Pogačar, his selection would be welcomed, but the potential for multiple leaders in UAE Team Emirates caused a slight hesitancy in response.

“I think he is growing up as a rider, as a person also,” noted Pogačar. “He has a super level, but the management need to decide for him what he is going to do, because everybody has wishes but they don’t come true so easily.”

Ayuso has thus far ridden two editions of the Vuelta and impressed on both occasions, taking third place on debut in 2022 and coming in fourth as ‘best of the rest’ behind Jumbo-Visma’s 1-2-3 at this year’s race. Now 21, the Spaniard hopes to follow in Pogačar’s footsteps by testing his resolve at the Tour de France. Were he to be selected, it would surely be as one of the team’s protected leaders, despite Pogačar’s own supreme record in France.

“Jumbo had three leaders in the Vuelta and they did pretty well,” acknowledged Pogačar, before suggesting that having multiple leaders could cause the team more headaches. “Nowadays it is pretty good to have two leaders and a lot of teams go with that strategy, but it is always easier to have one rider to be in the front.”

With the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France routes revealed in recent weeks, it won’t be long before UAE Team Emirates do settle on their plans for 2024, with initial discussions likely to have been held at their recent team camp in the United Arab Emirates. Their next get-together is for a training camp in Spain in December, which will bring Pogačar and his teammates close to their Head of Performance, Iñigo San Millán.

The 52-year-old has been in charge of UAE Team Emirates’ performance revolution during Pogačar’s time with the team, but has also recently taken on the role of Performance Director of Athletic Club Bilbao in Spain’s La Liga. When asked how this may affect the cycling team going forward, Pogačar insisted that the leadership of UAE Team Emirates would not suffer.

“It doesn’t change much for the team when he goes to Athletic Bilbao and in any case, it is going to be even more easy for the team because he will stay in Spain, not in Colorado - which was a bit more difficult to communicate with him from,” he revealed. “I think it is a good thing.”

Read more: Iñigo San Millán interview: why riding slower may make you faster

Might a rainbow jersey be on the cards for the Slovenian?

Discussing his plans for 2024 was not Pogačar’s only responsibility throughout the weekend in Singapore, far from it, indeed the 25-year-old would race rickshaws, a team time trial (which his UAE Team Emirates won) and the Prudential Singapore Criterium itself. Away from this, he was always at hand to pose for pictures, engage in group activities with the other headline acts, and offer up his autograph to starstruck fans.

Read more: Mark Cavendish, Chris Froome and Peter Sagan defeated in rickshaw relay

Amongst the mass of memorabilia that was thrown his way over the weekend, the most peculiar was perhaps a rainbow jersey that one fan politely requested he sign at the hotel. Ever the willing fan favourite, Pogačar whipped out a marker pen and made the young fan’s day, but the request was a tad premature for a rider yet to win the World Championships.

Pogačar came third behind Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) in second and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Deceuninck) in first in Scotland earlier this season, with the Dutchman simply a cut above the rest as he powered his way to a maiden elite rainbow jersey on the road, and the Slovenian holds nothing but admiration for the reigning world champion.

“He is a super nice guy, I would consider him as a good friend and a big competitor,” commented Pogačar. “He is not such a direct competitor, but we have some meetings through the year where we go against each other. I must say that for me, he is one of the best riders in the world, I mean he is the world champion! If I was a kid right now, he would be my idol.”

Both Van der Poel and Pogačar won two Monuments apiece in 2023, but it was Van der Poel who got the upper hand in Glasgow and will now get to sport the rainbow jersey until next year’s World Championships in Zurich. Giro, Tour and Vuelta talk aside, Pogačar chuckled when asked directly what his one dream for 2024 would be, before setting his sights on Van der Poel’s crown.

“To have a good time and try to get the rainbow jersey from Van der Poel.”

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