The Generation Next series is a review of the next big things in cycling. These are the heirs apparent to the throne of the current kings of cycling. Through these articles we will see some on the cusp of greatness, some up and comers and finally some who will be stars in a very specific role. Look for the members of Generation Next to dominate pro cycling for years to come.
Must be 25 or Younger at the start of the 2020 season.
Must be only one from each world nation.
Must have at least one big name race win to their name.
Tour de Force
The cycling world is running out of hyperbole for this young cyclist, and for good reasons. He has only just turned 22 and he seems to have an inability to feel pressure. Any cycling fans were introduced to this man on the world stage when he tore up the script at the 2020 Tour de France. When faced with an enormous 57 second deficit rather than settle for second place, Pogacar went all in for the victory and won by 59 seconds overall.
To put that into perspective Pogacar was chasing down Primoz Roglic, one of the best time trialists in the world and someone who has a long of winning. The important part of this narrative of course is this battle came in the penultimate stage of the Tour, the last full day of racing, and it came in a time trial. He had previously shown his pedigree in these races, significantly winning the previous 2 national time trial championships, but with no big races on his resume, no one truly expected the fireworks that came.
This result was surprising yes, but to many it was the beginning of what had been coming since he properly joined the world tour of cycling the year previous. The problem for Roglic is it came at his expense and it came a few years earlier than expected. It is not shocking that Pogacar won this race, he had previously come third in the 2019 Vuelta a Espana, however he was nearly three minutes down on the race winner Primoz Roglic.
Pogacar was his team leader, without question and he had previously picked up some wins, the 2020 Tour de France however was his arrival. The whole 3 weeks he was competitive, without much of a team standing by him. He repelled everything that Team Jumbo Visma could throw at him and when the time was right, he destroyed 3 weeks of perfect racing.
Alone but not afraid
Not since Team Sky’s domination of the Tour de France have, we seen a team ride this race like Team Jumbo Visma rode the 2020 edition. From start to finish they owned the race, pushing the peloton to breaking point every single day. They brought a team filled with specialists to support Roglic including previous Grand Tour winner Tom Dumoulin, Generation Next member Wout Van Aert and specialist climbers George Bennett and Sepp Kuss. All of those names including Roglic have the ability to win a Grand Tour and this was heralded as the strongest line-up to every be set to a Grand Tour, so what happened? Pogacar happened.
For most of the 3 weeks Tadej Pogacar was isolated, excluding a few cameos from David De La Cruz, Pogacar was a lone wolf on the road, the only member of Team UAE Emirates. Surrounded by rivals ready to attack at any moment, Pogacar followed everything, matching anything they could throw at him. The only thing slowing down his challenge was some unfortunate time lost in the crosswinds. However, like everybody it was commonplace for a racer without a team present to eventually crack.
For many cycling fans, this race was taking the usual path, one dominant team was slowly but surely destroying the will of the other teams around them. Jumbo Visma were a well-oiled machine and that machine, similar to Sky previously was going through the winning motions, mistake free. This continued even through the final day however they missed one vital thing when planning this race, the forgot to account for an unstoppable 21-year-old Slovenian ready to rise.
The young pretender?
The reason why most casual, and some die hard, fans did not see this coming is because Pogacar was showing promise but was not really in the conversation for overall Grand Tour champion. He fought his way into contention despite what would be seen as a weaker team alongside him to help. Even when the favourite struggles in the Grand Tours, they usually bring along lieutenants to protect them in the high mountains, Pogacar did not do this.
Now however Pogacar is a big winner, the spotlight will be fully on him, and with Roglic retaining the Vuelta a Espana, he has to back up his success. More so than other rivals, his friendship with Primoz Roglic is very interesting. Both Slovenians, they will compete alongside and against each other more than most in domestic, national and international tournaments.
Pogacar clearly has the ability, but to be a professional cyclist, you need the ability. There is no question that the ability and endurance of these athletes is second to none, but he needs to harness this ability. Does he have the ability to keep attacking without a team around him for protection and does his never say die tactic work consistently in the 3-day races, only time will tell.
What is next for Tadej Pogacar?
What is not next for Pogacar is probably going to require a shorter answer, because he is brilliant. The best young rider in the world right now, and definitely the most dangerous in the Grand Tours, Pogacar is more a when and not an if. He already has the Tour de France, which is the most prestigious, so what is next?
The Giro D’Italia is seen as the hardest race, and the Vuelta a Espana is the most testing and both of these are definitely within reach. Pogacar will win both of them, and this fan believes it will be within the next 5 years, potentially the next three. He has shown what he can do alone in the mountains, imagine what kind of a rider he becomes if his team switches focus. Not only will his win all three Grand Tours, but he will also win them more than once.
Pogacar can and will become a dominant force in cycling, it is just a matter of time. He will be the most well remembered Slovenian cyclist and he will cast a shadow over Primoz Roglic, who in his own right is dominating world cycling. Pogacar will also add monuments and Classics to his resume, and if he keeps, he ability to thrive under pressure has the chance to rewrite the history books.