One piece of advice Tadej Pogačar has been wise enough to never follow is to act his age.
As Alejandro Valverde, celebrating his 41st birthday, unfurled his sprint in the finishing straight after 258km of undulating Belgian terrain, the 22-year-old showed cunning experience beyond his years to stay locked on Julian Alaphilippe’s wheel. Laser-focused on the job at hand.
The sprint of Movistar’s elder statesmen soon faded, Michael Woods and David Gaudu already having blinked first on the run-in to the line, the Canadian launching a doomed late attack before the Frenchman thought about going solo, the duo clearly not trusting their legs to be the fastest of the quintet who’d made it to the line in the front group.
Soon the rainbow bands of the world champion emerged, Alaphilippe thrashing at his pedals as he came around the side, Pogačar glued to his wheel. It looked as if the world champion had done enough, but the UAE Team Emirates rider clawed his way back, overhauling the Frenchman and his hands instinctively reaching for his head in shock as the realisation dawned that he’d crossed the line first.
“I’m without words, I really love this race and to win here like this against those names is incredible,” Pogačar said, he was only three years old when Valverde made his professional cycling debut.
“I knew Alaphilippe was going longer and I stayed behind him, I was just lucky in the end, it’s just unbelievable.”
Pogačar was asked in the flash interview whether he is now the pre-eminent rider of the peloton, having followed up his Tour de France win with victory at the UAE Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico, now claiming his debut Monument.
“I don’t know about that,” came Pogačar’s characteristically humble response, “but I’m living the cycling dream.”
There was a sense that Pogačar and his team had arrived on the start line in Liège with the bit between their teeth, having been stopped from taking part in Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne after returning ‘false positive’ coronavirus tests.
“We had really good riders for that race, it would have been a really good opportunity,” Pogačar lamented, UAE Team Emirates instead taking the opportunity to recon nearly the entire Liège course, a choice that in hindsight has clearly paid off. “We were really motivated for today so we’re really happy we could do it like this.”
Next up for Pogačar, the three-fold plan is simple.
“Rest, take some time with the family, and then start to prepare for the Tour de France.”