Rider Interview: We spoke to the young prodigy Tadej Pogačar at the UAE Team Emirates training camp back in January – Since then a lot has happened. The overall win in Valencia and second in the UAE Tour and… COVID-19. Ed Hood caught up with Tadej in Slovenian lock down.
A big future to think about for Tadej Pogačar
He’s the man I said that despite his prodigious talent would fade in the final week of the 2019 Vuelta due to his tender years. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates and Slovenia) went on to win the Stages 13 and 20, was best young rider, second on points, third on GC and fourth in the king of the mountains in the Tour of Spain. Ed got that one wrong!
And in 2020 before Señor Coronavirus popped his head up, the 21 year-old Slovenian won two stages and the GC in Valenciana then a stage and was second on GC in the UAE Tour. His UAE team know a good thing when they see one and he’s on their books until at least the end of 2024. We caught up with Tadej during ‘lock down’ for a chat.
Top three in La Vuelta’19
PEZ: How did you get into the sport, Tadej?
Tadej Pogačar: I was nine years-old when I did my first race, it was just a three kilometre loop and we had to do laps. I was younger than the other kids because there was no age category for me. I still remember that I was last that day but I still enjoyed it and was happy to be in this sport.
PEZ: You played soccer as a youngster, do you still follow the game and have a favourite team?
I don’t follow football so much but I like to play it with friends, in the winter time.
Riding for Slovenia
PEZ: What is the cycling scene like in Slovenia?
In the last couple of years cycling has exploded in Slovenia. Mainly because of the success of the Slovenian riders in the last few years. Before cycling was never on the TV but now it’s becoming more and more popular. We only have a population of two million people in Slovenia so if we do well in sport it’s a really big thing for the country.
PEZ: Did you have a mentor as a young rider?
I started working with Miha Koncilija who was and still is a very important figure in Slovenian cycling then later with Andrej Hauptman. They both made a big impact on me as a person and as a rider. They believed in me to help me to become a professional rider. Now Andrej and I work together at UAE Team Emirates and he still helps me to grow as a rider.
A young Tadej
PEZ: You won the national cyclo-cross title as a u23 – did you ride a lot of ‘cross?
It was actually the Elite; in Slovenia ‘cross is not such a big sport but it is getting bigger every year and I like it very much. In winter I ride sometimes when I’d have had enough of the road bike in freezing temperatures.
PEZ: The Tour de l’Avenir 2018, which you won, was that your first taste of the really big climbs?
No, there were races with bigger climbs already on my palmarès in Italy with one day races, Tour of Slovenia and Tour of Croatia.
Tour de l’Avenir winner
PEZ: Why choose UAE-Team Emirates, there must have been many teams interested in you after you won l’Avenir?
Since I arrived in the team on day one I have felt at home. There is a good atmosphere with the riders and the staff and I can say that I have many friends in the team. It is a long term project which is exciting to be part of.
PEZ: You must be happy there – signed until 2024, that must give you peace of mind?
Yes, especially in the current climate it’s nice to have some security. For sure we are lucky to have a strong sponsor with a lot of confidence in the team.
Vuetla’19 stage 20 win
PEZ: How much of change did your Vuelta performance make to your life?
Not too much. I have to do a few more interviews and a few more people recognise me, but the work is still the same and I still have to ride my bike every day.
PEZ: You started 2020 very strongly, tell us about your winter preparation please?
Firstly we had a very good camp in Benidorm with the whole team. Over the winter I also moved to Monaco which is a bit warmer than Slovenia for training.
UAE Team Emirates media day – January 2020
PEZ: Where are you for ‘lock down’ and how do you train?
At the beginning I was in Monaco where I had to train indoors. The situation is much better in Slovenia and I moved back there when it was possible and was able to train outside again.
PEZ: What are your thoughts on the new UCi race programme?
It is nice because we have goals to train towards. That’s important for us. I’m excited to race again and for the fans it’s also nice to have something to look forward too.
On the attack in La Vuelta stage 13
PEZ: You rode Paris-Roubaix as a junior, is it something you would like to repeat?
It’s an amazing race. I won’t rule out going back there in the future, but for the moment I will be focussing more on stage races.
PEZ: You rode the Ardennes Classics for the first time last year, what are your thoughts on them – will they be a future goal?
For sure I like Ardennes very much, hard and fun racing. I can say LBL is one of my favourites. I hope that someday I can focus on that to win some.
Valencia’20 stage 2 win
PEZ: What is your favourite kind of race and parcours?
I prefer climbing, hard and longer stage races, I also enjoy hard one day races.
PEZ: And if you could win just one race, it would be ?
Probably the Tour de France or World Road race Championship. But who doesn’t want to win those races?
In yellow – Valencia 2020
# With thanks to Aaron Sergeant at UAE-Team Emirates for facilitating the interview; we all look forward to seeing Tadej back in action soon. #
Not much racing since January, but many changes