Pitch Perfect Pogačar

    There was a headline in Cycling News yesterday, which has since maybe disappeared, about how current Giro d’Italia leader and overwhelming GC favorite Tadej Pogačar was defending his stage-winning ways. CN does fine work these days, but like a lot of publications sometimes the headline writer doesn’t see fit to really capture the text of the article, and this was one of those times. The event was a post-race presser after Pogačar won the Prati di Tivo climb, his third stage victory of the 2024 Giro’s opening week, and one of the offhand comments he made was about how maybe his rivals were sick of him winning stages. None of his rivals actually said that. Nairo Quintana was reported today saying the opposite, a point so obvious — that no written or unwritten rule of cycling requires a grand tour leader to give away stages for absolutely nothing in return — that nobody was making it.

    Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

    On the contrary, unless one of his teammates can get a win (unlikely), Pogačar is more or less duty bound to fight for as many stages as he can nab. It’s a pretty simple matter: your team likes working for you when they know you’ll deliver, and every leader needs this kind of loyal, motivated support. So it is 100% Pogačar’s job to finish off the stage wins, give the team another morale boost, and pocket a check that he can spread around to everyone who deserves a share of it. That’s what stage wins are about. And you don’t give them away unless you get something better back, like a GC victory or something.

    Obvious point. Less obvious is that this entire Giro is actually about the Tour de France.

    OK, not entire, I’m sure growing up in Slovenia meant that he had some feelings about Italy, possibly even good ones, and winning the second-greatest race on Earth so close to hime (really close on stage 19) will be cool. Other than that though, this is about team-building and prepping for late June.

    And Pogs is doing an absolutely perfect job. Look, for all I know he wishes he were eight minutes up and is going to go completely berserk next week, but I doubt it. Right now Pogačar is in the perfect spot, and I suspect he will keep it that way. His goal is two-part: to win the Giro d’Italia (natch) and to do it with as little stress as possible.

    107th Giro d’Italia 2024 - Stage 7

    Photo by Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

    Eight minute leads are stressless in and of themselves, but you have to turn yourself inside out to get them in the first place. Pogačar isn’t doing that. He’s taking steady drips of time, and also dominating the time trial (with another yet to come), which means he is playing this all pretty close to the vest. And yet, he leads the Giro by 2.40 over a meh cronoman in Dani Martinez. By Friday, after a few days of rolling past beaches, Pogačar will probably have extended his GC lead to some four minutes following the time trial to Lake Garda. He will be in complete command heading into the final week’s usual array of devastating climbs with nothing to do but match wheels.

    The message to the peloton by his early lead and his stage wins is basically “none of you are in a class with me,” and probably everyone to a man believes this, even if they probably won’t say to til Rome. I’m not so sure you will even see people try to attack Pogačar, since he and his team will have set a pace that leaves them all gasping for air. It won’t be great TV, but in a subtle way it will be a very artful performance.

    107th Giro d’Italia 2024 - Stage 8

    Photo by Fabio Ferrari – Pool/Getty Images

    This is how you do the Giro-Tour Double. You thread the needle in terms of your efforts, expending just enough to squash all hope so the peasants don’t rise up against you and you have to be bothered to put them back down again. You project an air of total dominance, with just enough actual dominance to reinforce the image, so that you roll into Rome to collect your trophy, feeling like with a few days off you can ramp right back up to your best self again.

    I think this is what we are watching. If I am right, then we should maybe keep in mind that the Giro d’Italia, however dull in the GC competition, is merely the prologue to a very, very fascinating Tour de France. Call it cool, awe-inspiring, artful… whatever word you choose. But don’t call it boring.

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