The Tadej Pogačar show rolls on at the Giro d'Italia

It wasn't even about gaining time on stage eight, just winning

There’s often a point in a Grand Tour where the incumbent leader and his team opt to ride more conservatively in the mountains, allow a breakaway of non-threatening riders to get a substantial lead to contest the stage, and save their energy to ensure the lead they’ve built up can be safely preserved against those below in the general classification.

Stage eight of the Giro d’Italia would have fit that narrative perfectly. Tadej Pogačar, after his exhibition in the time trial on Friday, sat more than two-and-a-half minutes ahead of everyone else and with two stage wins safely logged on his palmarès. It would have made perfect sense then, for UAE Team Emirates to sit on the front of the main bunch and ride a steady and contained tempo on the roads to the summit finish at Prati di Tivo, permitting an escape group to take stage honours. After all, there’s still 13 stages to ride from here and risking burning any unnecessary matches within the team feels contrary to popular racing wisdom. But Tadej Pogačar doesn’t follow the set narrative. Give him any sniff of a potential win and that cannibalistic appetite becomes insatiable.

Yet, there was something different about this particular victory atop Prati di Tivo, his third win of the race. From day one of the Giro, it was clear Pogačar was keen to chalk off a stage victory to complete his set in the three Grand Tours, narrowly missing out on his maiden stage and the pink jersey to Jhonatan Narváez (Ineos Grenadiers) after attacking the race along with his team. That was quickly rectified on stage two’s summit finish to Oropa, and his 4.5km solo win had the added incentive of putting significant time into the other GC riders. There’s nothing to do but go your absolute hardest in a time trial, and his victory on that particular stage seemed to be the bonus given the amount of time he put into everyone else on GC, effectively rendering the battle for pink done and dusted save for illness or a crash. But stage eight just felt different. There was no reason for UAE to go all-in for the stage (in fact there were possibly more reasons not to) and pull back the inefficacious breakaway except for Pogačar’s thirst for victories, and that was evident from the way the final climb was ridden.

The start of the 14.6km summit finish was executed in the same way as UAE has habitually approached these climbs; pull as hard as possible until Rafał Majka, the last man, can go no longer, then sit back and watch Pogačar ride away. However, this time there was no attack, and even when Majka had fulfilled his duties, Pogačar, resplendent in all pink, simply looked around at the other climbers in his company. There was no need to go, no need to gain another 30 seconds, even if he could have done so with seemingly consummate ease.

Giro d'Italia

There were attacks elsewhere, the first we’ve really seen against Pogačar in fact. Antonio Tiberi (Bahrain Victorious) tried twice, as did Thymen Arensman (Ineos Grenadiers). Neither was close to troubling Pogačar at the top of the standings, but neither could stop him from cooly following them and shutting down any hopes of taking a crumb of the glory at this Giro.

It was clear Pogačar was aiming to take this to a sprint to the line (at least saving the energy of a sustained solo attack), a method he’s used to good effect against those often equal to him on the climbs. Again, in a conventional sense, it would not be unusual to watch a Grand Tour leader simply ride in the wheels and finish safely behind those sprinting for victory at this point, but as Majka returned to lead out the final 200m, an inevitability hung in the air. It then felt like a chasm opened up between Pogačar and Dani Martínez (Bora-Hansgrohe) – no slouch in a fast uphill finish – in the final surge, which the Slovenian rode like he was taking on the first sprint of a training session.

It was a ruthless demonstration that leaves an increasingly growing conflict. It is both equally impressive to watch Pogačar and deflating to think about the lack of contest to come over the rest of the race with so many stages that look suited to his absurd abilities. Of course, this is cycling, and of course, anything can happen, but even this well-trodden phrase, which has been so prophetic of many remarkable Grand Tour turnarounds, feels increasingly moot in the face of a man who can seemingly decide when he wants to win.

The Giro d’Italia isn’t over, but neither is the Tadej Pogačar show.

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