When Tadej Pogacar signed for UAE Team Emirates in August last year, he was billed as one for the future. A young cyclist with tremendous potential, he had proved his ability at Under-23 level in the UCI Continental Circuit. The step up to the UCI World Tour to compete against the finest cyclists in the toughest races was supposed to provide a unique set of challenges which would, understandably, require a period of adjustment.
Instead, Pogacar, who turned 21 in September, quickly proved he belonged at elite level. In February, the Slovenian won his first general classification title in just his second start – at the Volta ao Algarve – and six weeks later claimed his second youth classification title at the Tour of the Basque Country.
In May, Pogacar won the Tour of California – a pre-cursor to the Tour de France – and he continued his relentless form when he was crowned national champion in the individual time trial in his next race. He then returned to his homeland two weeks later to win another youth classification at the Tour of Slovenia. To gauge just how impressive this result is, only the top- and third-ranked cyclists in the world, Primoz Roglic and Alejandro Valverde, finished ahead of him. “I did not expect it – I don’t think anybody expected it. I surprised myself almost every race,” Pogacar said when we asked to him to evaluate his season. “It really was amazing, the year I had and the team as well. I hope next year we can have a similar year or even better.”
At the start of the season, Pogacar didn’t even expect to be in contention for a place at one of the grand tours – Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta – but ended the year with a podium finish in Spain, while climbing 40 places in the world rankings to number 13th. “When I went to the Vuelta I was relaxed, but then I saw that I was doing well after the first week and I can keep up with the best,” he said. “Then in Andorra, I won the stage and it was a big surprise. At that point, I thought I could go for it. I just wanted to finish the race in the top places. In Stage 20, there was quite a big move and it moved me in to third place. It was pretty crazy.”
Pogacar attributes his immediate success on the World Tour to how quickly he was able to fit in to the UAE Team Emirates setup. “I was a bit afraid to meet so many new teammates, because I have only been on one team for 10 years,” he said. “Then you go somewhere new and it is a bit frightening. But they accepted me really quickly and we are all good friends, we work together really well, and that helped me a lot to overcome all the challenges. But it was a big step from Under-23 racing to be here now. Next season is quite heavy because of the Olympics, the European Games, and the World Championships,” he said. “Every race on profile suits me, so I will need to decide which races to compete in. A lot of new names will be on the biggest podiums in the next five years. Now is the time for the next generation.”