UAE’s ‘Young Gun’ Tadej Pogačar Gets PEZ’d!
Rider Interview: Tadej Pogačar is one of the ‘young guns’ in today’s peloton and 2019 was an enormous season for the Slovenian. Wins in Algarve and California were top performances, but then in the Vuelta a España, Pogačar won three stages, the best young rider and third step on the final podium. Alastair Hamilton caught up with Tadej at the UAE Team Emirates Spanish training camp in late December to get the full story.
Handling the press
Tadej Pogačar is only 21 years old, but already he has an impressive palmarès. From junior National road champion and 3rd in the European championships in 2016, the man from Komenda stepped up to win the Tour de l’avenir (the young man’s Tour de France) in 2018. He moved up to the WorldTour from his Continental Rog-Ljubljana team in 2019 with the UAE Team Emirates and showed he is one of top men of the new and successful generation.
PEZ: Last season was pretty big for you. What are your feelings about the year?
Tadej Pogačar: Yeah, I still can’t imagine the whole year all together. It was really, really big and it’s difficult for me to say how I feel. But yeah, I’m happy for sure. And I want to be at that level again next year, or even higher.
Vuelta stage 9
PEZ: Have you notice any changes at home, in the press and in Slovenia generally? It’s a bit different now. More people know me and stuff like that, but it’s all part of this and it’s going okay, not too much pressure. Cycling went really big in Slovenia, it just exploded I think. It’s growing and growing now. You see people on the road with their bikes and it’s really lovely to see so many people on the bike
PEZ: When you walk down the street do people recognise you now?
When I walk down my street they already recognise me. But yeah, sometimes now in the other towns some people recognise me, especially if I’m on the bike, but it’s they’re not pushy. It’s okay.
PEZ: Maybe it was good that Primoz won the race and it took a little bit of the focus away from you?
Yes, also that, but also because he won, so many more people were there cheering, but really after the Vuelta the sport in Slovenia is one of the biggest sports.
Vuelta’19 stage 13:
PEZ: Did you ever try ski jump like Primoz?
I tried on a really small jump, 20 metres. It’s scary, yeah.
PEZ: What about the Olympics in 2020?
Yes, and I have a good program where I will ride the Tour and the Olympics.
PEZ: You don’t think they’re too close together?
If you prepare really well for the Tour de France and you finish on a high level, I think for the Olympics, it’s okay.
PEZ: You didn’t think of the Giro?
Yes, we were thinking about a Giro program, but I need to be in good shape for the UAE Tour also. It’s not really a perfect situation, then if you’re too good in the UAE, for the Giro you have to stretch the fitness.
The ATOC podium
PEZ: Are you a good traveler, are you accustomed to that sort of change, like going to Japan?
I went to Japan once for five days and it didn’t affect me so much. I was tired, I was sleeping, but it didn’t affect me on the bike.
PEZ: What about the course, have you looked at it?
Yeah, it’s really hard, but I’m more concerned about the heavy weather, the heat and humidity, but we can’t do anything about it.
PEZ: So is that your main goal; the Tour and the Olympics?
Yeah, we could say that, and the UAE Tour.
PEZ: There are a lot of guys about your age in the peloton. Why do you think suddenly there’s all these young guys? Also there seems to be a gap between the new young guys and the older riders… A lost generation.
I don’t know, I don’t know what’s happened but yeah, for sure a new generation is coming. I think this will be like every 10 years or something like this, a new generation will come, and that’s how things are I think. I don’t see a specific reason why.
Valverde, Roglič and Pogacar – Vuelta top three
PEZ: What will you be doing in 10 years time?
Probably the same as now, maybe answering your questions.
PEZ: A lot of older riders say that the young guys getting to the top level so early, their careers will be shorter.
Yeah, it could be, maybe shorter careers. Also you can get kind of sick of it. I think if you are on the top level for so long, you cannot continue like this forever. But I think we should enjoy as long as we can.
PEZ: Do you stress about anything? food, training or expectations?
No, I don’t stress about much. I just go along with whatever my team tells me and it’s always worked well. So, for me, I don’t stress too much about food and training because I know I have trust in my team.
PEZ: Diet can be difficult for a cyclist. Is that something you have experienced?
Yeah, diet in cycling is maybe a bit different than in other sports, we sometimes need to eat a lot, a lot more than we can. And yeah, sometimes that can be a problem, but for me, I never experienced that I was eating too much or not enough, but I always find the balance for what I need.
In the Vuelta white jersey
PEZ: It’s a big decision to go to the Tour, did you want to go or was it the team that suggested it?
We did programs for the Giro and the Tour and in the end it was a better option for the Tour de France, and I like it, and I look forward to it. It’s the biggest race in the world, so for me it’s a dream and I am happy about my program.
PEZ: After your performance in the Vuelta there will be a lot of focus on you in your first Tour de France, are you ready for that?
I’m ready. I’ve only done one Grand Tour and the Tour is quite different from the Vuelta, so for now, in the first year we will see how it goes. With no pressure and learning for the future.
PEZ: The Tour has a lot of climbing in the first week, So you should know if you will go for GC or for stages soon after the start?
The route is quite different from previous years. But I think that’s good for me, I like hard races. But like you said, we will soon know if you go for GC or just there for stages or training or helping. It’s going to be really, really hard.
On the wheel of the World champ
PEZ: Geraint Thomas posted a picture of his Garmin and he had ridden 320 kilometres in one day. What do you think of somebody doing that in December?
I think people do lots of different stuff. Lots of different approaches to training, but in the end, for me, I don’t see good sense in that, only to be mentally prepared maybe. But eight hours, you are never eight hours on the bike so you don’t need to train that long and I never do such long training as some guys do.
PEZ: You work with a power meter?
Yeah, we all have power meters, we train with them but also with what you’re feeling.
PEZ: And when you’re racing?
I don’t look, but in time trials sometimes it’s useful, but I’d rather not look.
PEZ: The 2020 Tour doesn’t have a lot of time trial kilometres, do you see this as an advantage or disadvantage, because you can ride a decent time trial.
Yeah, I can perform okay. Not the best and not the worst. So yeah, I like the TT in races, but in the Tour there is only one.
PEZ: You know your own abilities, but were you surprised by yourself of everything that you did in 2019?
Yes, I was surprised by each race and now when I look back I just can’t believe what I achieved. I’m surprised more than anyone, I think.
Vuelta stage 20
PEZ: You said that you don’t feel any pressure from the team and you don’t feel any pressure from the public, but do you feel you put pressure on yourself?
Yeah, I do put pressure on myself, not in a bad way, just to keep my motivation going. I like that the team doesn’t push me and also the public don’t stress me, but for sure there will be more stress on me in the future, but I just want to take this stress as motivation.
PEZ: It was very special for you to be on the podium of a Grand Tour at such a young age, was it even more special to have your countryman, Primož Roglič, by your side?
Yeah, all the guys around me were top level, I was looking at how they raced a few years ago. It was really amazing to stand beside Valverde and Roglič on the podium together. It was indescribable.
Vuelta final podium
PEZ: The Tour always has more pressure and there will be more on you.
Yes, the Tour has a lot more pressure, but it’s still a long way to there and I will prepare myself for the stress and stuff like that.
PEZ: At the Olympics would there be a good agreement between you and Roglič?
The Slovenian team is quite good with communication, we talk with each other. For sure if Roglič feels good I will help him, and he will do the same for me. I just want to go there to be part of the team and to help towards a good result that I believe that Roglič can do.
On the Vuelta podium with the flag
Do you know who the others in the team would be?
We have a four man team, I don’t know who else yet. But probably Jan Polanc, the climber, but for the fourth… I’m really not sure.
PEZ: One of your competitors at the Olympics will be Remco Evenepoel. Do you see him as a contender for that race?
Yeah, I think he can do really well in the Olympics. Maybe it’s too hard for him, but on the another hand, if he prepares for the road race, he can do really well. But I think he might concentrate more on the time trial.
Pogacar TT action
PEZ: Will you ride the time trial?
I don’t think so.
PEZ: Do you see Evenepoel as somebody who’s capable of going for the overall in Grand Tours?
Yes. For sure a lot of stuff can happen and we will see in a few years.
On his way to stage 9 win
PEZ: What did you think of San Sebastián?
I was racing in San Sebastián after a break in training. For me it was too fast a race, I was not in shape, but Remco was impressive. Really, really impressive.
PEZ: You could also be a very good one-day racer.
If I find the right approach for the one-day races I think I can do well, but now I will focus more on the first part of the season and on the Tour, not so many one-day races.
Stage win in Algarve’19
PEZ: No Classics for you in 2020?
I will probably do the Ardennes Classics and maybe Sanremo, but I cannot say that I will be preparing especially for those races.
PEZ: How will you prepare for the Tour de France… Altitude camp?
I will be at altitude, probably. I don’t know, maybe Sestriere, we haven’t decided yet, but for sure altitude. And the Dauphiné and before Paris-Nice and Basque Country, that will be my program.
Top men on Tadej’s wheel
PEZ: What’s your opinion on Mathieu van der Poel?
He’s also like a man from another planet. He’s one of the best riders now I think, in one-day races.
PEZ: You don’t think maybe he’s doing too much – Road, cyclocross and mountain bike?
Ha! Whatever he likes, whatever he likes. I would love to do cyclocross and mountain bike, but I’m not really good, so I stick to the road bike, but he’s good everywhere, so why not?
PEZ: But you are cyclocross National champion.
Yeah, but that’s like nothing, it’s not like a World Cup.
PEZ: Would you like to do cyclocross at a higher level?
I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, but for sure in the future, I would like to try international races, or even World Cups.
Vuelta stage 20 win and back on the Vuelta podium
PEZ: What has been your favourite race so far?
Favourite race… for one-day Classics I would say the Strade Bianca was one of the best, Liège was also good, but I still need to try a lot of Classics. For one week races that I have raced, one of the best ones was the Basque Country. It was one of the hardest and I enjoyed Australia and California. I think my favourite race is going to be the Tour de France, but I don’t know yet.
PEZ: When you were younger, did you have a hero?
I never had a true hero. I followed the Tour when I was younger and then it was the Schleck brothers and Contador, but I never really had a true hero.
The Slovenian tandem
PEZ: Did you want to emulate the Schleck brothers?
No, I did not want to copy anybody, but you can learn from them so much, but nobody’s perfect, so I try to go my way and be myself and I think that’s for the best.
PEZ: Will you be the team leader for the Tour de France?
I don’t think so because we will also have Fabio on the start list. I think if he prepares well then he can be our leader and I can do a lot for him. I think it will be a good team. It doesn’t matter who takes the win.
PEZ: Will you have a particular goal at the Tour de France – Stage wins or finishing in the top 10 on GC?
I don’t know, I will go to see how it is. If Fabio is going well, then I will be 100% in support for him. For me, the main goal is to learn as much as possible, how the Tour works for the next years.
Pogacar and Roglič taking the Vuelta a España apart
PEZ: So far you have achieved quite a lot: Tour de l’Avenir, Algarve, California, 3rd in the Vuelta. What do you think after each of those successes?
I don’t know. I don’t look at it in that way. Yeah, I won the race. I enjoy riding the bike and for me it’s really a blessing to be with the top guys to compete for first place and I just love to race. Even if I come last, I’d still love to race.
PEZ: You enjoy racing more than talking about?
Yeah, for sure. I’d love to just do the race and do none of the talking.
PEZ: What did you do in the off season?
I relaxed. After World Championships I took it easy until November. I was enjoying time with my girlfriend, so it was really, really refreshing.
Emotional podium stage 13
PEZ: Do you still live in Slovenia?
Yeah, right now I live in Slovenia. I’m moving to Monaco, and we’ll see how things go, when the racing starts, which are the better flights and it’s a lot of organising to do. I’ve not spent much time there yet, it’s certainly good training ground. I love it there. Really nice, warmer weather. Now in Slovenia it’s zero degrees, raining and it’s not perfect for training. Monaco is a really nice area.
PEZ: You must have felt at home during the World championships in Yorkshire with all that rain?
For me it was really good weather. I could not complain but it was difficult to finish the race. I finished with the group for seventh place, but I was the last of the group. I was 18th. For me it was just an accomplishment to finish.
Tadej and Luke
# Thanks to Luke McGuire of UAE Team Emirates for setting up the interview and good luck to Tadej – A big star in the making. #
More info on the UAE Team Emirates HERE.