Tadej Pogacar crosses the finish line to win the Belgian cycling classic and UCI World Tour race Fleche Wallonne in Huy, Belgium, on Wednesday. AP
Tadej Pogacar was hailed as a “once in a century” talent who can become cycling’s greatest star after the two-time Tour de France champion claimed his 12th win of the season in the Fleche Wallonne.
The 24-year-old Slovenian was the youngest Tour winner in 116 years when he clinched his first major title on his debut in 2020.
After lifting a second Tour de France in 2021, Pogacar swore to widen his horizons to try and conquer the tough one-day scene, which few Grand Tour riders have ever succeeded in doing.
However, when he was beaten at the Tour of Flanders in 2022, and then came second at the Tour de France, it appeared he might have bitten off more than he could chew. Those doubts have now disappeared.
Tadej Pogacar (C) celebrates on the podium with second place, Denmark’s Matthias Skjelmose of the Trek Segafredo team and third place Spain’s Mikel Landa of the Bahrain Victorious team. AP
“He is perhaps the best rider of all time,” said Denmark’s Mattias Skjelmose who was second on Wednesday. “You only see someone like him emerge once a century.”
Third-placed Mikel Landa claimed “there was no way to beat Pogacar.” “He’s over and above the rest of us and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Just three weeks ago, Mathieu van der Poel was going for a third consecutive win at the Tour of Flanders, a race seen by many hardcore fans as an unofficial world championship.
Van der Poel, however, could only watch as Pogacar’s series of attacks on the many cobbled hills allowed the Slovenian to win. “I can live with second today,” said Van der Poel. “Second to a rider like that is okay.”
Tadej Pogacar competes on the Mur de Huy-Muur van Hoei during the 86th edition of the men’s race “La Fleche Wallonne.” AFP
Pogacar hinted that his growing reputation meant that while he was receiving accolades he was also getting few favours. “We had to do it all on our own today, nobody else would work,” he said.
There was a similar scenario on the Tour de France in 2022 when his defiant will to win stages, as well as the main overall prize, backfired as Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard beat him to the title.
“This is racing, expect me continue,” said Pogacar. “I’ll go away and consider all this and see how we play it next year.”
The bad news for his rivals is that on Wednesday Pogacar insisted he had learned his lessons from 2022.
“Thanks to these small mistakes and the experience of 2022, I now know more,” he said. “Winning is never boring.”
This weekend Pogacar faces a mouth-watering duel with Remco Evenepoel at Liege-Bastogne-Liege, with the Belgian defending champion tasked with taming the 2021 title-winner.
The 23-year-old Evenepoel is the world champion and Vuelta a Espana winner.
“I know that Liege will be the most prestigious and toughest of the three races (this week). I’ll go for the win. Super motivated within a very strong team. The result, we’ll see…” said Pogacar.