Pogačar’s in pink, but he’s already thinking of yellow - UAE Team Emirates's new ‘defensive’ approach to the Giro d’Italia

The Slovenian rider confirmed on the Giro’s first rest day that he’s racing with the Tour de France in mind

Nine days of racing, three stage wins and a lead on GC of two minutes and forty seconds. Tadej Pogačar says that he has “enjoyed the Giro d’Italia” so far, and it’s not hard to see why. On the first rest day of the race, the UAE Team Emirates rider has had a burger for lunch and done a two-hour recovery ride in the sunny Italian hills, stopping for a “coffee in the middle of nowhere” and “admiring the scenery.” Bellissimo. Right now, life is good for Pogačar.

In fact, the Slovenian rider admitted that the first week of the Giro could be analysed as “almost perfect” for him and his team, adding that it has been a “10 out of 10” race so far. In isolation, the almost three-minute lead he has on the general classification ahead of Bora-Hansgrohe’s Daniel Martínez gives Pogačar plenty of confidence when it comes to defending the pink jersey all the way to Rome, but it also, according to Pogačar, has positive implications for the rest of his season.

Targeting the Giro-Tour de France double has always been on Pogačar’s agenda for 2024 and if winning both Grand Tours is doable for any rider in the current peloton, it’s him. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t a tall order. A lot will depend on how well Pogačar recovers from the fatigue of three weeks of racing in between the finish of the Giro and the start of the Tour, and the 25-year-old says he’s keeping this in mind as la corsa rosa rolls on.

“The Tour is in my mind as well,” he told the media on the first rest day. “That’s why I’m so happy I have a bigger gap now so I don’t need to push over the limits so much to take time on my other rivals. Now it’s more defensive riding to use the team as much as possible to take me to the finish line.”

The logic behind Pogačar’s plan is clear: he’s gained as much time as he could at the earliest possible opportunities in this Giro with the objective of just following his rivals, sitting in the wheels and conserving energy as the stages go on. Pogačar no longer has to make the race, he can just wait for others to try something.

“I think we need to be really be prepared for next week – especially the third week I think there will be big attacks from competitors, especially Ineos with [Thymen] Arensman and G [Geraint Thomas], they have good cards to play. Otherwise I think it’s just going to be really hard stages across the board when it’s climbing,” Pogačar said. “Anything can happen. I just need to be ready to always have a good mindset for the stage and keep pushing to the end even if I have a bad day. It’s good to have a bit of a time gap now.”

Using his teammates to cover attacks is certainly the right idea from the Slovenian rider, but the execution of this plan might not be so simple. UAE Team Emirates have faced criticism on some of the tougher Giro d’Italia stages so far for having a weaker team than the likes of Ineos Grenadiers – only Rafał Majka remained with the front group on the mountainous stage to Prati di Tivo, for example. Pogačar was quick to silence any doubts surrounding the strength of his teammates, however.

“I’m used to the media and competitors trying to undermine my team and say we don’t have a good one. Everyone can say this but we always show otherwise. We have proven over and over that we are one of the best teams. Even if we’re not here with the biggest names in UAE Team Emirates, we are working well and everybody is giving one hundred percent,” he said. “We are a strong team and I’m happy to be part of it. We have a great atmosphere at the race and at the dinner table. We are a family and give everything to each other.”

Given Pogačar’s time gap going into the second week of the Giro and considering the long time trial still to come, UAE Team Emirates have a serious advantage over the rest of the peloton. When Pogačar was in the mood to snatch time and attack in the first week, this was the hardest time for his teammates to protect him. For the next two weeks, though, they can just allow other teams to bring the race to them, something that should make things a little easier for the Emirati squad.

Still, Pogačar is acutely aware that he can’t get complacent even with a big time buffer. He might already have one eye on the Tour de France, but there’s still two weeks of racing in Italy to go. The 25-year-old has said how much he’s looking forward to a pizza when he finally gets to Rome, but he’ll only be happy if he’s eating it in the pink jersey.

“We need to think day by day and keep the team together as much as possible. We will see what happens.”

Shop now