Article copyright 2020 by Bob Rogers.
Tadej Pogacar is a young man whose name may be hard to pronounce*, but his is a name worth knowing– not only for what he did, but also for what he said.
Cycling fans were astounded in September 2020 as the young Pogacar won the three-week, 2,164-mile Tour de France by surpassing the leader on the last day of racing. Personally, I was amazed by what he said after he won.
In the first week of the race, the 21-year-old made mistakes and fell behind, but slowly he began to close the gap. Going into the last day, he was in second place overall (out of about 150 riders), but still 57 seconds behind fellow Slovenian Primoz Roglic of Team Jumbo-Visma. That seemed too big of a gap to close in just one day, as the best riders often can ride 100 miles with only a few seconds between their finish times. Roglic had a great team of fellow cyclists helping him along the way, leading him on mountain climbs, etc. Cyclists compete on teams that work together, because following the wheel of another cyclist is about 25% easier than riding alone against the wind. A pro cycling team also includes radio operators telling riders what is happening, and a support system of cars riding along the race, carrying spare bicycles, food to hand to riders, mechanics to fix problems, etc. In contrast to Roglic’s team, Pogacar of UAE Team was unable to get help from fellow riders on his team, as they were dropping out or falling behind him.
Despite overwhelming odds, on the final day of racing, Pogacar finished 1 minute, 56 seconds ahead of Roglic, more than enough to make up for his 57-second deficit! This allowed Pogacar to wear the famed yellow victor’s jersey for the final processional into Paris.
To put his victory in perspective, here is a bullet list of how amazing this win was:
*He won it by coming from way behind, on the last day, which only happened once before.
*He was the youngest winner since 1904.
*He was the first winner from his country, Slovenia.
*He’s a rookie—it was his first time in the Tour de France.
*He won three of the four main prizes. Only one other cyclist to win three of the four competitions in the Tour de France was the great Eddie Merckx in 1969. Pogacar won the yellow jersey for overall winner, polka dot jersey for best rider in the mountains, and white jersey for the best young rider. (Appropriately, an Irishman named Sam Bennett won the green jersey for most points.)
Tadej Pogcar had every reason to be proud, but instead he was humble. Take a minute to read this transcript of his interview after the race, courtesy of NBC Sports:
Interviewer: Now you know it’s not a dream. You have won the Tour de France!
Pogacar: Yeah, I don’t know what to say—I’m really proud of the team. They gave such a big effort, just a dream, we achieved it, and it’s just amazing.
Interviewer: But Tadej, it was you! You were on the bike, and you were amazing! Did you have the time gap? Could you believe it?
Pogacar: No, it was not just me, it was all the team, because I knew every corner, I knew every pothole on the road, I knew where to accelerate, because it was the road that you need to know, and it was all the team—congrats to all my team, especially to my radio operators and my mechanics. Today, I just pushed finally in the end, and yeah, I made it.
Interviewer: You had 57 seconds of a deficit on Primoz. Did you believe it? You clearly believed you could beat him, no?
Pogacar: No, I was listening to my radio just on the flat parts but then on the climb I didn’t hear any from the radio because the fans were so loud, so I didn’t hear anything—no time gaps, nothing. I just went deep. I knew the climb very well, so I just went full gas from the bottom to the top.
Interviewer: Is this a childhood dream?
Pogacar: Actually, my dream was just to be in the Tour de France. And now the dream is—[pause] I’m here and I won, this is unbelievable.
It was unbelievable for his victory, and inspiring for his humble spirit. In this year of anger, anguish and arrogance, such people are badly needed.
(*Tadej Pogcar is pronounced TAH-day Poe-GOTCHA)