Tadej Pogacar has already clinched nine victories and most recently taught Tour Champion Jonas Vingegaard a lesson at Paris-Nice. In the classic Milan-Sanremo on Saturday (03/18/2023) the Slovenian wants to set the next exclamation mark.
Boredom has long since set in at the top of the cycling world rankings. Pogacar replaced Belgian Wout van Aert there on September 27, 2021 and is still ahead by a wide margin. Remco Evenepoel follows the leader with a respectable distance of 371 points (4,916), third is van Aert (4,087) ahead of Vingegaard (3,093). There is much to suggest that the gap at the front is increasing, because Pogacar recently drove the competition to the ground before the grueling spring classic Milan-Sanremo.
Start for the first time in Abbiategrasso
To be precise, this year’s traditional 294-kilometer one-day race should be called Abbiategrasso-Sanremo. For the first time in the history of “La Primevera”, the 114th edition does not start in the fashionable capital of Lombardy, but in the 35,000-inhabitant village 25 kilometers south-west of Milan.
But Pogacar will hardly have eyes for the beautiful Castello Visconteo or the Basilica Di Santa Maria Nuova, which are among the symbols of Abbiategrasso. The exceptional driver, who has already been compared to the legendary “cannibal” Eddy Merckx, is comparatively reserved. So this time he did without a high-altitude training camp, which leads him to the assessment: “My head feels fresher, but my legs are less strong.” This is not exactly consolation for the competition with a view to the rest of the season.
Poggio di Sanremo as the last hurdle
Milan-Sanremo is also very popular with the 24-year-old: “I really like this race, even if it’s probably the hardest to win there.” For 144 kilometers it is rather flat, before a tough 532-meter climb follows, which ends with a rapid descent in Voltri on the coast of the Ligurian Sea.
Via Varazze, Savona and Albenga it goes to the three “Capi”, the Capo Mele, Capo Cervo and Capo Berta. This is followed by the Cipressa, an almost six-kilometre-long climb with an average gradient of four percent, the summit of which is reached after 272 kilometres. Nine kilometers from the finish then comes the Poggio di Sanremo, which with a length of almost four kilometers and an average of just under four percent is the last hurdle of the day – here Pogacar could ride the decisive attacks.
Training at the end of the ascent again and again
Last year, however, he accelerated a little too early on the Poggio, was caught and ended up only fifth. That’s why this time – his place of residence Monaco is not far from Sanremo – he integrated the final ascent of the Classicissima into one or the other training lap.
He got extra motivation from the tour he lost to Vingegaard, says Pogacar, and in front of Milan-Sanremo he explains his secret of success like this: “I’ve always been ambitious and love to race, so that’s where the desire to always win comes from. But I think that’s the case with most drivers.” With him, however, the implementation succeeds on a wide variety of terrains, in day races such as tours, flat or hilly, shorter or longer – that’s why there’s always a suspicion.
Pogacar still has big plans
Because even in the days of Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong, who were later convicted of doping, you hardly saw the great tour riders in the spring, and after the highlight in the summer they slowly let the season come to an end. This is different now. Pogacar will also be competing in other monuments such as the Tour of Flanders and Liège-Bastogne-Liège in the coming weeks, where he already won in 2021. He wanted the cobblestone ordeal near Paris-Roubaix “try one day too, but not in 2023”stresses the captain of the UAE team.
But even without Parix-Roubaix, he has no shortage of big goals. He also wants to win the World Cup within the next five years, maybe this year in August in Scotland. “Last year I was already tired in August, so I preferred to start the year more calmly”, explained Pogacar. In view of the nine wins of the season that sounds more like a threat.