Tadej Pogačar is showing he’s an amazing rider, such an immense talent. Given his latest run of historic wins, we thought it would be interesting to revisit an interview we did with him three short years ago, in June 2020, during that first lockdown.
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He’s the man we said that despite his prodigious talent would fade in the final week of the 2019 Vuelta due to his tender years. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates and Slovenia) went on to win the Stages 13 and 20, was best young rider, second on points, third on GC and fourth in the king of the mountains in the Tour of Spain. We got that one wrong!
And in 2020 before Señor Coronavirus popped his head up, the 21 year-old Slovenian won two stages and the GC in Valenciana then a stage and was second on GC in the UAE Tour.
His UAE team know a good thing when they see one and he’s on their books until at least the end of 2024.
We caught up with Tadej during lockdown for a chat.
How did you get into the sport, Tadej?
“I was nine years-old when I did my first race, it was just a three kilometre loop and we had to do laps. I was younger than the other kids because there was no age category for me.
“I still remember that I was last that day but I still enjoyed it and was happy to be in this sport.”
You played soccer as a youngster, do you still follow the game and do you have a favourite team?
“I don’t follow football so much nowadays, but I do like to play it with friends – in the winter time!”
What is the cycling scene like in Slovenia?
“In the last couple of years cycling has exploded in Slovenia, mainly because of the success of the Slovenian riders in the last few years.
“Before, cycling was never on the TV but now it’s becoming more and more popular.
“We only have a population of two million people in Slovenia so if we do well in sport it’s a really big thing for the country.”
Did you have a mentor as a young rider?
“I started working with Miha Koncilija who was and still is a very important figure in Slovenian cycling then later with Andrej Hauptman [ex-Lampre and Fassa Bortolo rider himself. ed].
“They both made a big impact on me as a person and as a rider. They believed in me to help me to become a professional rider.
“Now Andrej and I work together at UAE Team Emirates and he still helps me to grow as a rider.”
You won the national cyclo-cross title as an U23 – did you ride a lot of ‘cross?
“It was actually the Elite; in Slovenia ‘cross is not such a big sport but it is getting bigger every year. I like it very much.
“In winter I ride sometimes when I’d have had enough of the road bike in the freezing temperatures.”
The Tour de l’Avenir 2018, which you won, was that your first taste of the really big climbs?
“No, there were races with bigger climbs already on my palmarès in Italy with one day races, Tour of Slovenia and Tour of Croatia.”
Why did you choose UAE-Team Emirates – there must have been many teams interested in you after you won l’Avenir?
“Since I arrived in the team on day one I have felt at home.
“There is a good atmosphere with the riders and the staff and I can say that I have many friends in the team.
“Really, it’s a long-term project, which is exciting to be part of.”
You must be happy there – signed until 2024 – that must give you peace of mind?
“Yes, especially in the current climate it’s nice to have some security.
“For sure we are lucky to have a strong sponsor with a lot of confidence in the team.”
How much of change did your Vuelta performance make to your life?
“Not too much to be honest.
“I have to do a few more interviews and a few more people recognise me, but the work is still the same… I still have to ride my bike every day!”
You started 2020 very strongly, tell us about your winter preparation please?
“Firstly we had a very good camp in Benidorm with the whole team.
“Over the winter I also moved to Monaco which is a bit warmer than Slovenia for training.”
Where are you for lockdown and how do you train?
“At the beginning I was in Monaco where I had to train indoors.
“The situation is much better in Slovenia and I moved back there when it was possible and was able to train outside again.”
What are your thoughts on the new UCI race programme?
“It is nice because we have goals to train towards – that’s important for us.
“I’m excited to race again and for the fans it’s also nice to have something to look forward to.”
You rode Paris-Roubaix as a junior, is that something you would like to repeat?
“Well, it’s an amazing race.
“I won’t rule out going back there in the future, but for the moment I will be focussing more on stage races.”
You rode the Ardennes Classics for the first time last year, what are your thoughts on them and do you reckon they will they be a future goal?
“For sure I like Ardennes very much – very hard and fun racing.
“I can say LBL is one of my favourites.
“I hope that someday I can focus on that, to win.”
What is your favourite kind of race and parcours?
“I prefer climbing, hard and longer stage races.
“I also enjoy hard one day races.”
And if you could win just one race, it would be?
“Probably I’d say the Tour de France – or World Road race Championship.
“But who doesn’t want to win those races?”
With thanks to Aaron Sergeant at UAE-Team Emirates for facilitating the interview. We all look forward to seeing Tadej back in action soon.