Defend or attack? Tadej Pogačar keeps his plans cryptic for the Giro's final week

Despite boasting one of the biggest leads in recent history, the Slovenian keeps his options open when it comes to advancing his position in the remaining stages

Tadej Pogačar was just finishing up his Giro d’Italia second rest day press conference when he let his poise slip. “[Stage 15] was one of the best moments of my career, but the best moment for sure is victory in the Tour de France. Let’s see in one week, and then in a few years how this victory settles it… I mean, if it happens.” For 20 minutes, Pogačar had played the composed individual: he knows he has an almost seven-minute lead at the summit of the Giro’s general classification, but there’s an unwritten rule in cycling that you can’t say victory is truly yours until the final finish line has been crossed. But complacency temporarily crept in, the Slovenian fast-forwarding six days to Rome and his near-certain hoisting of the never-ending trophy.

It was of course completely understandable, only an unforeseen disaster such as injury or illness will prevent the UAE Team Emirates man from completing the first task in his Giro-Tour mission, and the four mountain tests that await in the final week are set to be his crowning glory rather than his unlikely undoing; it’s not unimaginable but instead entirely plausible that Pogačar will win this race by more than 10 minutes.

But what was noticeable on the second rest day was how Pogačar was already beginning to turn his attention to the Tour, even if he insisted that, “first let’s go through the Giro, and in one week we can start focusing 110% on the Tour.” He talked about lowering the intensity – ha, we’ll believe it when we see it, Tadej – and not committing to long-range attacks in the final week, a sure sign that he knows the job is as good as done.

“We sit good in the GC now with a good time gap, so let’s hope that this week is going to be good for us with good pacing and not spending too much energy,” he told assembled media. “It’s six days more… we can play a bit more on the safe side. Yesterday we wanted to go for it since a long time ago, but let’s see this week what is on the cards for us. I think we can play it more safe and conservative, but you never know.”

Thirty-four days separate the Giro’s final stage in Rome and the Tour’s Grand Départ in Florence, and with Jonas Vingegaard’s condition unknown following his crash in April’s Itzulia Basque Country, Pogačar is now the favourite for the yellow jersey. No such thing as that being too much pressure for him, though. “I never did the Giro-Tour, but based on what people say, if you finish the Giro good and recover after it well, you have really good legs in the Tour de France, so let’s hope for that. I hope for this experience to be the same as the others when they did the double. I know I need to finish the Giro in high morale, at a good level and in good shape, and then super compensate by relaxing and chilling out a bit, [then going] to training camp and preparing for the Tour. I think it’s going to be good enough.”

Tadej Pogacar, Giro d'Italia

Before all that, though, are six more probable days in the maglia rosa. “To have the pink jersey in the Giro was a dream for a long time,” he smiled. “My calendar never allowed me to go to the Giro [before] so to take the pink jersey on the second day was an incredible moment, really beautiful, and I can see how big it is, especially here in Italy. To defend the pink jersey gives me motivation and I will fight to create bigger gaps to my opponents. We’ll see what happens this week.”

But, wait a sec, Tadej, just a few moments ago you indicated that you were done with attacking, content with your time gap to Geraint Thomas in second? “Monte Grappa on stage 20 is one of the hardest stages,” he went on, “with two long climbs in a row. It’s going to be a really good stage.” All that talk about racing conservatively was just talk, then. A bluff absolutely no-one was falling for. You can’t suppress Tadej Pogačar, but you can get him animated when he talks about his performances in the race so far.

“First I need to set up an attack, then drop everyone, that’s what goes through my mind,” he explained when asked what he thinks about on days like stage 15 when he rides away from the entire field. “I then try to find a comfortable pace for the certain amount of time I need to climb… and just focus on pushing the pedals.” He makes it sound so easy. “I am super happy that I have been feeling good on the TT bike and yesterday in the high mountains also. There are a lot of wins that have more weight on it, but specifically in a Grand Tour, if you win a queen stage, it’s one of the biggest things a cyclist can do. I’m super happy and proud with yesterday. It’s all gone pretty smooth until now.” Hasn’t it just, and already Project Tour is coming into focus.

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