There goes the dream of a fit and fresh Tadej Pogačar taking on Jonas Vingegaard next summer with the news that Pogačar will race the Giro d’Italia in 2024. The pre-race Giro preview here has suddenly got easier but there are more important knock-on effects.
Last summer’s Tour de France was a thriller until it wasn’t, when the Dane blew the doors off the 22km time trial stage to Combloux. Until then Vingegaard and Pogačar seemed inseparable, trading blows in the Pyrenees and Alps. The hope was that if Pogačar could return to the Tour in peak condition he could sustain the challenge to the end, plus we’d have Roglič and Evenepoeland on a tasty course which could go down to the final stage, the Nice time trial. What a dream, eh? Still, it’s probably simplistic to equate Pogačar’s fade in the final week of the Tour to his recovery from injury last year, it could explain it… but equally not.
While Father Christmas is busy with everyone’s requests this week, asking for the top contenders to arrive fully fit at the start of the Tour de France and stay that way for three weeks probably sees an elf filing the request into a tray stacked with demands for a pet unicorn or a date with Taylor Swift. The wish a year was to see Pogačar with an improved team take on Vingegaard, but that didn’t quite happen because of the Liège injury; for 2022 it was to see Egan Bernal build on his Giro win and return as a Tour contender but tragically time trial practice and a parked bus finished that. Over the years it’s rare to get all the contenders together and fully fit, plus with Covid – as easy to catch as a cold, as sapping as bout of ‘flu – now the odds shrink further.
Never mind fate though, the difference here is elective. Fortune hasn’t conspired to slow Pogačar: he and his team have opted to ride the Giro. UAE have said out loud they want to win a grand tour in 2024 and the subtext of this is that trying to dethrone Vingegaard in the Tour is a tall order; plus the likes of João Almeida, Juan Ayuso and others aren’t bankers to win the Giro or Vuelta either. Visma-LAB, Bora-hansgrohe and Soudal-Quicksep will cheer as it boosts their Tour chances.
As of today Pogačar is the five chainring pick to win the Giro given he can ace the time trials, win punchy uphill finishes, will come with a strong team, and in the high mountains his only rival is Vingegaard, plus any cold weather doesn’t worry him. Easy? Of course not but he does make it look simple sometimes. But not easy enough to win the Tour de France, UAE are betting on the Giro and not the Tour. It’s a brave call from the team whose backers crave the top trophy. Still Pogačar to win the Giro looks much more likely, it’s a realistic decision.
The Giro-Tour double?
“It can’t be done” says the chorus for good reason but this blog’s refrain over the years is that everyone says this but one day someone will do it and with that more will try. Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin weren’t far off in 2018 but that can still be a deterrent in a sport where percentage point gains are. Nobody wants to start the Tour de France with a 1% handicap. RCS have lent into this by offering a 2024 Giro route that’s much easier on paper: the average stage length is reduced by 20km and it’s got the least amount of vertical gain since 2010. Everything else being equal Pogačar isn’t going to show up fatigued in Florence, but he will have the Giro card to play if he’s “only” able to make the podium and win stages along the way. He could still win.
There are lots of other knock-on effects. UAE looks like a very congested team for stage races so it’ll be interesting to see who they pick for the Giro and Tour as anyone wanting leadership is left hoping for co-leadership. And staying with Pogačar and the team, does this mean he’s doing Sanremo but won’t be back at the Ronde or out for revenge in Liège? We’ll see but just as riding the Giro impacts results after the race, the build-up before will have to be adjusted too, he’s more likely to be on Teide in April than the Taaienberg.
A further ramification is rival teams reviewing the Giro plans they’ve made in recent weeks. But only so much: can you name the team with a key rider who’d been persuaded not to ride the Tour de France so they could target the Giro instead who now finds a Slovenian roadblock? It’s more these teams had a decent shot at the podium and maybe find the percentage chance reduced given Pogačar’s likely to win.
There’s also the effect on the Giro itself. Pogačar brings stardust to the race, a celebrity and a personality alike and that’s a big draw for audiences, TV and roadside. It’s anecdotal but last May Pogačar was trending on Twitter, as frustrated fans lamented his attacking absence as they waited for a GC rider to make a move. As we saw in Lombardia Pogačar can be the favourite to win and still deliver an exciting performance, there’s a paradox of seeing the same riders win over and over at the moment but the sport doesn’t feel boring because of this. Of course one Sunday in Lombardia is different than three weeks where rivals can quickly be reduced to defending their podium or top-10.
The other knock-on effect is the appeal of the Giro and the business of the sport. Race boss Mauro Vegni has overseen some dull editions of the race, the race has struggled for stars and next year sees Italian authorities showering money on ASO to bring the Tour de France to Italy which has to sting. Now he’s secured a star name for his race. He once let slip he pays appearance fees (on a technical point team management negotiate and bank these, presumably sharing the bulk with the rider on whose appeal the value is derived) and Pogačar won’t have come cheap. The big coup would not only be to have Pogačar win the Giro but Vegni should be praying that he wins the Tour as well because this would open up the double again and tempt more riders in the coming years to the Giro.
Is there a case of “be careful what you wish for” for Vegni and the Giro? The course is easier and a plausible scenario is see Pogačar in the maglia rosa on the opening stage, then consolidate his lead the next day at Oropa. He stay in pink for three weeks unless he and his team can engineer a way to loan the lead. But quickly we’re assuming the only way to get out of the race lead is to gift it. No, let’s not engrave his name on the trophy yet but it does reduce the surprise factor but this is probably more an issue for niche blogs, the wider public will be delighted to see a big name at the race and if he rides away with it, the public salutes a champion; and if he has to fight to the end the contest is better. It’s just a plus for RCS in every sense.
So much for the dream 2024 summer scenario of Vingegaard facing a revenge rematch with a Pogačar in peak form, with Roglič and Evenepoel as well as it’s not yet 2024, more can happen. Still it’s good for the sport if Pogačar races the Giro and he’s still going to do the Tour de France as well, the glutton. The Giro looks all the more exciting for it, at least in anticipation and Giro fans and rivals for the Tour and Ronde alike will cheer this news. And if Santa gets to read this, my new wish is that Jonas Vingegaard does the Giro as well.