Paris (AP) – Tadej Pogacar only knows the 1989 heartbeat finale from YouTube videos and old stories.
He wasn’t even born when Greg Lemond took victory at the Tour de France in a memorable individual time trial on the Champs Élysées. Little by little, however, the 21-year-old cyclist began to suspect that he had achieved something similar historically. “It’s all too big for me,” said Pogacar as he stood in front of the world press, as excited as a high school student on the Abitur exam. ‘I am only one child from Slovenia, have two sisters and a brother. What can I say?’
The son of a college professor – appropriately in French – was overwhelmed by what was happening himself. He had really only dreamed of starting the tour. “And now I’m wearing the yellow jersey,” said the young man from Komenda, and sighed. With only 21 years and 365 days, Pogacar took the overall victory in Paris on Sunday. Only one tour winner was younger: Henri Cornet was in the second edition of the race at the 1904 final, shortly before his 20th birthday, and the victory was not awarded until months later after the top four drivers were disqualified. But those were very different times.
In a famous mountain time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles, he had overtaken his countryman Primoz Roglic, who had been so sovereign until now, in the general classification. Like Lemond in 1989, but then on the last day in Paris. The American was very enthusiastic about the Slovenian’s triumphant journey. “I screamed in front of the TV, just like I screamed on the Champs Élysées in 1989 when I won. This is the birth of a great, great champion,” Lemond told the French tour organ “L’Equipe”.
The largest in terms of cycling bow for Pogacar. “I already knew after the Vuelta that he was great. You can’t do a song like that if you don’t have talent,” said five-time champion Eddy Merckx. And former patron Lance Armstrong, now banned in cycling circles and banned for life for his doping past, spoke of a “feat for eternity.” Maybe it was the best ever. Besides the yellow, “Super-Poga” also won the dotted and white jerseys as best mountain rider and young professional.
Who is this Tadej Pogacar? He started cycling when he was nine. The racing bike was still too big for him at the time, but he still beat the older guys. Pogacar has always been way ahead of its time. When he was victorious in the 2019 California Tour, the protocol of the awards ceremony had to be changed. At 20, he was too young for the champagne bottle, instead there was a teddy bear.
And on the last lap of Spain, he also won three stages with 20, something no cyclist at such a young age has been able to do on a big tour. Pogacar said he had good genetics: “I have to thank my parents for that.”
He shares the same passion with his girlfriend Urska Zigart, she is also a cyclist and has just competed in the Giro d’Italia for women. They live together in Monaco – so far inconspicuous among all the rich and beautiful. “Things will change, but I want to stay who I am. I want to have fun, enjoy life,” said Pogacar.
In 2009 he started watching the tour on television. It was then that he cheered Alberto Contador on. Hopefully he will be spared a similar fate. Contador was banned for doping for two years. At Pogacar there are no suspicions so far, even if the environment is not completely clean. Its discoverer and sports director Andrej Hauptman was not allowed to tour in 2000 because of a hematocrit value of more than 50 percent. And in the doping affair “Operation Aderlass” many traces lead to Slovenia, but so far not to Pogacar.