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Pogacar starts explosive first Giro weekend in pole but potholes await
Cycling Sport

Pogacar starts explosive first Giro weekend in pole but potholes await

Tadej Pogacar may be the outstanding bet to win his debut Giro d’Italia, but the Slovenian is also acutely aware of how three weeks of Grand Tour racing can throw up sudden, unexpected moments of weakness.

He has exploited that in the past, usurping his stunned compatriot Primoz Roglic to win the 2020 Tour de France. But he has also been victim, as in last year’s Tour, when Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard applied the coup de grâce on the Col de la Loze.

Pogacar, leader of the powerful UAE Emirates team, a serial winner this spring at Strade Bianche, the Volta a Catalunya and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, is the hottest favourite to start a Grand Tour for years, but he knows that Italy’s capricious Corsa Rosa is best treated with respect.

The 21-stage Giro begins on Saturday in Turin and has a potentially explosive opening weekend, with the first summit finish coming as soon as Sunday, on the 12km climb to the Santuario di Oropa at Biella. The three-week race also features two individual time trials and six mountain finishes prior to the final stage in Rome on 26 May.

Speaking before the race, Pogacar tried to put the hype into perspective by showing due deference to elders, such as Geraint Thomas, of Ineos Grenadiers and French veteran, Romain Bardet, leader of Team dsm-firmenich PostNL.

“There’s a lot of good riders in this Giro,” Pogacar said. “In three weeks there can be a lot of surprises. Bardet has shown some good form and Thomas, like always, will be good in this Giro.”

The 25-year-old Slovenian has been both audacious and arrogant this spring, winning with long, lone breakaways – a jaw-dropping 80km in Tuscany’s Strade Bianche in March followed by an equally bold solo attack to win the coveted Belgian Classic Liège–Bastogne–Liège – but quickly dismisses any suggestions of complacency.

“Every race I go to, I’m the favourite now,” Pogacar said, “so I just have to live with it,” adding that “everyone is trying to race against us and we need to control from the start.”

Thomas, who has already described Pogacar as destined to be “one of the greatest,” is in a relaxed frame of mind as he returns to a race that he lost last May by a handful of seconds. “It takes the pressure off us because everyone expects Pogacar to win,” the Welshman said.

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A general view of the peloton heading towards Naples during the 2023 Giro d’Italia.View image in fullscreen

As ever, the volatile weather, the specifics of racing in Italy and the steepness of legendary climbs such as the beloved Stelvio and the dreaded Mortirolo, will play a big part in the outcome of a race that is sometimes depicted as dull, but that usually provides a suitably dramatic finale.

Thirty-somethings Bardet and Thomas are definite podium contenders, but Pogacar’s most likely rivals may be lesser-known names, such as the fast-rising Belgian Cian Uijtdebroeks, who will lead the Visma-Lease a Bike team and Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale’s Australian leader, Ben O’Connor, fourth in the 2021 Tour de France and more recently second overall in last month’s Tour of the Alps.

But for the moment, this Giro is set to be all about Pogacar, already hugely popular in Italy after two wins in Strade Bianche and three victories in the season-ending Giro di Lombardia.

His showboating and swagger is not to everyone’s taste and the apparent ease of his dominance also triggers cycling’s sceptics, but his appetite for racing and winning, shows no sign of abating. French critics have depicted him as an “ogre,” and his rivals at this Giro are now wondering just how monstrous he is willing to be.

Source: theguardian.com