Tadej Pogačar first uttered his preference last December. “If it would be my choice, I would already have done it two years ago. I would really like to go to the Giro,” he stated, hammering home his desire. “But I am not the smartest to make the decisions of the program.”
Twelve months on, he’s got his wish. He’s going to the Giro d’Italia in 2024. “I always wanted to do the Giro,” he smiles in front of a few dozen journalists. “It’s always been a dream to be there. I came to UAE Team Emirates, my first Grand Tour was the Vuelta a España, and then I went straight to the Tour and it was a success. There’s never been time for the Giro. But I am not so young anymore and I think I can do two Grand Tours. I probably already could before, but now it’s nice and it’s time to have a new challenge in my career.”
Pogačar, 25, is entering his sixth year as a professional. He’s won two Tours de France, claimed three Monuments, and established himself as, many believe, the most complete bike rider since Eddy Merckx. But the Giro has yet to be graced by his racing presence.
“It’s always been a wish,” he continues. “I could feel they [his team] wanted me to try something else, and not to repeat the Tour, the same [thing] every year, not to get in the same rhythm, [but] to change the schedule a bit, the life, to try some new races, new challenges. Every year [it’s been] the same story, [and that’s] not good for my body. The team saw this and when I proposed this to them, they immediately said yes, let’s prepare for it.”
There are plenty of time trialling kilometres, but fewer climbing metres in 2024’s Corsa Rosa. Pogačar will be the undoubted favourite, the man everyone backs, and the cooler conditions, in opposition to the baking hot days experienced at the Tour de France, will only bolster his chances, and demoralise his rivals. “So far, my shape has always been better in the spring,” he acknowledges. “I perform better in colder weather.”
When the news broke on Sunday evening, courtesy of a slick social media video in which the Slovenian gave a cheeky andiamo - let’s go - in the back of a taxi, the cycling world briefly lost its collective mind. Che cosa? What? But the Tour de France - he can’t forgo an attempt to win back the yellow jersey from Jonas Vingegaard. Fear not, he won’t; he’ll be there at the Florence Grand Départ, ready for his fifth consecutive Tour.
“I think everyone wants to do the double,” he says, when asked about the chances of him emulating Marco Pantani in 1998, the last man to win the Giro and Tour in the same year. “It’s one of the hardest things to achieve. I think the main goal from all GC riders is to win all three Grand Tours. This is something to have on the palmarès. Let’s see how it goes with the Giro first, then the Tour. Let’s not think about the double.”
But people will. It’s going to dictate the conversation in the run-up to the Giro. So too will discussion over whether or not he can maintain his form between the Giro finishing and the Tour beginning. “I think after the Giro there is still solid time to recover,” he opines, referencing the gap of 34 days. “[I won’t have] a so busy schedule before the Giro. I know my body, how to train for certain races. I will come with the right balance [and] shape for any Grand Tour.
“For sure, you need to know the Giro is very demanding for the body. It’s a little hard where you can get rest. You can go to altitude with the guys but if you have the [good] condition after you finish a good Giro, you don’t need to train that much, but [instead just] keep the base you had from the Giro. It’s not like you start from zero again.” There was a greater acceptance last year, however, that the Giro-Tour demands are enormous. “It’s a challenge, but it takes a lot,” he said. “A big toll on your body. Even if you can do both and win both, maybe you will feel so exhausted that afterwards you finish your career!”
Whatever his thoughts now, he won’t be going into the Tour half-heartedly, even if he could relinquish leadership to his stellar team that comprises Juan Ayuso, Adam Yates, João Almeida and Pavel Sivakov. “To go to a race not to care about racing, it’s hard to change for me,” he says. “Just to get there for training? I can do that better at home. I can really try to be good in all of the races.”
But how can Tadej Pogačar improve? “All the things, a little bit more,” he answers. “It’s not just one thing to focus on too much. Maybe time trialling. Some days I am not so good. You need to work on this, but you reach your level and cannot go further sometimes. Slowly, progression is stopping in my body [physically], but I am always improving in my head and other aspects.” Has he reached his ceiling? “Maybe that’s it. I can’t know. I’m not sure if there is room for progression. Maybe not physically. We can see. I just hope I can get a bit better.”
The last winner of the maglia rosa was Pogačar’s fellow Slovenian, Primož Roglič. When his compatriot won on Monte Lussari, he was backed by tens of thousands of Slovenians. It was a national celebration, only across the border in Italy. “There’s no jealousy,” Pogačar responds when asked about that May day. “I don’t feel jealousy.”
Roglič, however, is even more revered among Slovenians - partly because he has an Olympic gold medal, and Pogačar does not. That’s another challenge the younger of the two is aiming for in 2024. “A gold medal is a pretty huge thing in Slovenia,” he says. “I already have a bronze from the road race [in Tokyo 2021]. It’s hard to repeat that or to be even better, especially on the [Paris 2024] parcours.”
He’ll be there, though, leading his nation, ditto at September’s mountainous World Championships. “It’s also a big goal,” he confirms. One-day races are the days he enjoys the most. “I prefer Monuments over Grand Tours for enjoyment. In a shorter period of time, it gives you a bigger boost of adrenaline.”
Before all that, however, there is a Grand Tour double on the cards. As he squints his eyes from the Spanish sun - “I look so cool in sunglasses,” he quips - and admires one journalist’s small smartphone from circa. 2010 - “woah, nice phone. I think I had this one for two months as a kid - I couldn’t afford a good one.” - he reiterates once more why now is the time for him to finally appear at the Giro. “Cycling is not just about the Tour de France,” he points out. “It’s the biggest race in the world, but there are a lot of things to do in cycling. I will try to be 100% in both the Giro and the Tour. It can be super good, really good, or not so good. I won’t say bad, but mediocre. We never know what can happen. We can define success after the races.”