(Image credit: Bettini Photo)

On the day before he turned the tender age of 22, Slovenian wunderkid Tadej Pogacar won the world’s most prestigious race, the Tour de France, at his first attempt, continuing his meteoric rise through the world cycling ranks.

The baby faced champ became the youngest rider to claim a UCI event title when he claimed the 2019 Tour of California as a 20-year-old. Later that year he won three stages in the Vuelta a Espana – his maiden Grant Tour. He won another 3 stages in Le Tour on his way to claiming the Maillot Jaune.

Pogacar’s countryman Primoz Roglic held yellow for 11 days through this year’s tour, with Pogacar sitting in his wheel until the younger man’s remarkable time trial on stage 20 stole victory. The Race of Truth, as the time trial is often called, was Pogacar’s make or break. Beforehand he was open in his intention to live in the ‘red zone’ and either win spectacularly or flame out in an even more dramatic fashion. As it was, Pogacar won the stage overall, turning a 57-second deficit into a 59-second lead.

Tadej Pogacar
Pogacar shows the strain on stage 20. Photo: Getty Images

After the final stage on the iconic Champs-Elysees, Pogacar said “It’s unbelievable, it’s crazy. Even if I came second or last it wouldn’t it matter, it would have been nice to be here. But this is top of the top, I cannot describe this feeling with words.

Despite naming Pogacar as a rider to watch for the General Classification, the young Slovenian wasn’t considered a major contender for this year’s race, mainly due to his age and relative inexperience. The major contenders were Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma teammate Tom Doumoulin, as well as 2019 winner Egan Bernal.

Pogacar was seen as a future champion, expected to learn at the feet of his vastly experienced teammate Fabian Aru. Unfortunately for UAE Team Emirates, Aru and fellow Italian Davide Formolo had abandoned the tour by stage 10, which in retrospect looks a blessing in disguise for Pogacar, who was thrust into full responsibility for his own rides – a duty in which he thrived.

As well as the Maillot Jaune, Pogacar also took home the Maillot Blanc for the tour’s best young rider and the Maillot a Pois as the King of the Mountains.

For a young man winning his first his first Tour de France in such an astonishing manner, Pogacar has remained reassuringly grounded, directing much praise to his team: “Today was very special, special moments with my teammates. It was nice to talk with my team on the bike, not just going full gas all day. A lot of respect from the other riders, I think everyone single one of them congratulated me today. I’m really thankful, this sport is amazing.”

I’ll examine all of the competition winners and teams in greater detail in later articles, though for the moment let’s focus on wonderful victory for an exceptional starlet of the sport and a 1-2 finish for Slovenia in the year’s Tour de France: a remarkable achievement for a country of just over 2 million people.

Viva le Tour!