A year ago, as Tadej Pogacar clinched a podium in his maiden Grand Tour at the Vuelta de Espana, the 22-year-old was instantly tipped as a future Tour de France winner.
However, nobody expected the Slovenian to scale such dizzying heights so fast.
In a stunning performance, Pogacar won cycling’s global showpiece on Sunday, becoming Slovenia’s first winner and youngest Tour winner since 1904.
The rider from UAE Team Emirates, themselves in only their fourth year of existence, produced a monumental showing in the time trial to Les Planches des Belles Filles on Saturday, eclipsing the rest of the field by 81 seconds.
Until then it had looked as if his compatriot and race-leader Primoz Roglic would seal the yellow jersey. However, in a dramatic turnaround, it was Pogacar who won the stage, his third of the Tour, to all but confirm victory.
The Komenda native insisted his remarkable success hadn’t sunk in just yet.
“It hasn’t sunk in. I think it will be a long time before I realise I’ve won the biggest race in the world. It’s something I’ve been dreaming since I was a kid. To win is unbelievable for me. I think I will need some time to realise what happened,” he said.
“The team believed in me all the way through, but sure it was a surprise to arrive in Paris in yellow. Top-five was the main goal but when I was second, we tried to defend it. We were all surprised by what I did in the end.”
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I don’t know what to say actually. Le Tour is a dream of every young cyclist and I won it yesterday! I can’t describe how thankful I am for ALL the people involved in any matter!! Standing on the top step of the podium on Champs Élysées with a legend @richie_porte and @primozroglic who has been such an inspiration to me in the past few years and to all the world. Thank you EVERYONE. This is just unbelievable for me. 💛 @uae_team_emirates @colnagoworld @dmtcycling @met_helmets @sciconsports @adidasco @fizzaazzif @bettiniphoto @jossewester
With Roglic taking second, it meant two Slovenian riders graced podium places on the Champs-Elysees, a historic day for the tiny Alpine nation of just 2.1 million people.
“With first and second, Slovenia is going crazy right now. It’s a big casino in my home country, everyone is so happy, celebrating,” he said.
“I stay in my apartment in Monaco and everything is more relaxed because of COVID-19 restrictions. It’s hard to go out and celebrate with all the people. The season is still going on. We need to stay focused and be healthy.”
The consensus is that Pogacar will win multiple Tours de France, having shown vast promise at such a tender age, joining Egan Bernal (23) and Remco Evenepoel (20) as the rising stars pushing the likes of Chris Froome (35), Richie Porte (35) and Geraint Thomas (34) out of the picture.
“With the new generation coming in, it is already motivating. Last year with Bernal winning the Tour, and this year Evenpoel was amazing. It’s coming to a new generation versus the older guys. For a few more years it’ll be a fight between the two generations. In ten years or something, there will be another one to come as well,” he said.
With Tour de France victory secured, Pogacar turns his attention to Sunday’s UCI Road World Championships in Italy, where himself and Roglic will be strong contenders.
He said: “I need to find another goal. I will try to defend the Tour de France title. There is a world championship in the coming days. For the future, I want to be at my best and try to win again some Monuments or Giro (d’Italia) or Vuelta (de Espana).”