Despite still only being 19 years of age, Slovenian Tadej Pogacar is already one of the biggest names on the U23 scene. Last season, while riding for Slovenian Continental squad ROG-Ljubljana, he amassed some big results in both major European U23 races, as well as in some big professional races. This earmarked Tadej for success, which is why he was included in U23 Cycling Zone’s 18 for ’18 list of U23s to watch this season. Apparently, we were not the only ones watching, as Tadej was reportedly offered a precontract agreement from a WorldTour team before he even pinned on a race number in 2018, a situation he was good enough to clarify in the interview.
His team now goes by the name of Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum for this season, where Tadej is just one of a number of talented Slovenians on the roster. He has started 2018 on fire too, with 4th and 5th in Trofej Porec and GP Laguna Porec respectively. Ahead of the Istrian Spring Trophy stage race, which blends together a start list of some top development team and a lot of Eastern European pro teams, Tadej spoke with U23 Cycling Zone about his great season last year, and the year he hopes to have this season.
First, we took a look at Tadej’s 2017 season. In pro stage races, he placed 4th in the Istrian Spring Trophy, 3rd in the Tour de Hongarie and 5th in the Tour of Slovenia, won by two-time Tour de France KOM Rafal Majka. He also bossed the U23 scene, with 10th in Giro del Belvedere, 11th in Palio del Recioto, 7th in Piccolo Lombardia, 20th in the Worlds U23 RR, 9th in GP Capodarco and 5th overall in the Carpathian Couriers U23 race and the best young rider jersey. He did all of this as an 18-year-old (except for the Worlds and Lombardia, he had turned 19 by those races). Tadej spoke a little about his dream season:
“It went much better than expected. Each race I started and finished, which surprised me. 2017 was a fantastic year that I will never forget.”
We devled even further into his past, finding out how Tadej first got into a sport he now is destined to make it as a professional in.
“Miha Koncilija, my coach when I first started racing as a young teenager asked my brother to join the team Radenska Rog, as they were known at that time. For me, he said that I need to wait a bit to grow up, because I was too small to ride a bike. So I started racing in a team half a year after my brother, in 2009.”
As evidenced by the listing of his results, Tadej is capable of having success in both stage races and one-day events. At the minute, Tadej says he prefers stage races, but he also enjoys the hard one-day races, of which there are plenty on both the pro and U23 circuit.
“I prefer stage races, but I also always love to start a difficult one-day race. At this moment, I really don’t know, at the one-day races here in Croatia and Slovenia I did really well, but my real goal in the early part of the season is the Istrian Spring Trophy stage race.”
While Tadej has excelled in the U23 ranks, it appears 2018 may be his last racing in the category, as rumours have appeared in the last month suggesting he has already signed with WorldTour team UAE-Team Emirates, who have a good record with Slovenian stars, being a previous home for riders like Simon Spilak, and more recently, Luka Pibernik and Matej Mohoric. UAE-Team Emirates currently have Tadej’s compatriot Jan Polanc, two-time Giro d’Italia stage winner on their roster. Tadej says that while nothing has been signed, he has been offered a contract.
“Yes, the rumours are true, I have precontract with UAE-Team Emirates, but I haven’t definitively signed it yet.”
As well as the riders mentioned above, Slovenia has produced riders like Primoz Roglic and Kristijan Koren, and there are some younger riders coming behind Tadej like Nik Cemazar (18), Jaka Primozic (19) and Tadej’s teammates Matic Groselj (21), Izidor Penko (21) and Ziga Jerman (19). So just what has caused Slovenia to produce so many top-class riders in recent seasons?
“In Slovenia, we have a long tradition of working with young cyclists. Cycling club Rog, which my current team Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum is part of, was established 70 years ago and has produced some quite good cyclists. I am glad to race here, as there are great conditions for my development.”
Tadej agrees when asked if his brilliant 2017 season puts more pressure on him in 2018, as everyone is watching his results and epecting big things every time he races. However, he is staying focused and motivated, while doing his best to not let the pressure get to him.
“I am more under pressure than last year. But I believe in myself and I am always trying to release the tension before races. The pressure just motivates me.”
Finally, we turned towards Tadej’s season, which has already started really well. Tadej has clearly planned his goals well for this season and although he wants to do well at every single race he starts, there are a few races in particular he wants to excel in this year.
“The Istrian Spring Trophy is my first big goal for 2018, followed by the Tour of Slovenia, European Championships, the Tour de L’Avenir and the World Championships. But first comes the Istrian Spring Trophy and the Tour of Slovenia. After Slovenia, I will set more clear goals and decide with my team how best to approach them.”
When asked what pro race he would love to win (a dream which seems more tangible for Tadej than most U23s, as there it is very likely he goes pro at the end of this year), he acknowledges there are a few iconic races all cyclists dream of winning. However, after taking 7th in Piccolo Lombardia, the pro edition is the race Tadej would love to win most.
“I think every cyclist in history wants to win either the Tour de France or the World Championships. But Il Lombardia is race I like the most, but any professional victory is awesome.”
Tadej Pogacar is one of the most talented U23s in the world, possessing an ability to both climb and time trial, as well as being able to sprint really quickly at the end of hard stages. This makes him a very hard cyclist to drop and it is scary to think he hasn’t even turned 20 yet. He seems destined for the pros in 2019, and the sky really is the limit for him. To be honest, it is a privilege to interview such a talented rider before he truly “makes” it. Remember the name, as he seems destined for stage race, Monument and possibly even Grand Tour success over the next fifteen years.
Given this interview is published on the 9th, the Istrian Spring Trophy has already started. Both today and tomorrow’s stages hold the key to winning the GC. In yesterday’s prologue, Tadej did a good ride to be just six seconds behind the winner, another U23 Cycling Zone interviewee, Nils Eekhoff. His GC dream is more than alive.
Thanks to Tadej Pogacar for taking some time out of preparing for the Istrian Spring Trophy, his first major objective of the season, to answer our questions. Thanks also to Ljubljana Gusto Xaurum press officer Robert Celestina for setting the interview up and providing some images of Tadej for the article. You can follow Tadej on Twitter at @TamauPogi.