As Tadej Pogačar began to accelerate, seated, on the Mur de Huy, it seemed to be another repeat of an episode we’re already very used to watching.
In the end, however, it didn’t play out according to the traditional script.
The UAE Team Emirates rider was lurking more than a dozen riders back as the peloton approached the steeper section of the finishing climb of La Flèche Wallonne. Up the right-hand side of the road, left alone from the riders bunched up behind Alejandro Valverde, the Slovenian ascended up the group alongside the barriers.
As Pogačar later put it, “I pushed myself over the limit, I came to the front row, 200 meters to go,” as he kicked again to move into fourth place as the race strung out. “I was quite excited, I’m here, I can do it.”
Then the eventual winner Dylan Teuns went, dragging Valverde and Aleksandr Vlasov with him. Pogačar sat down in the saddle and began to drift backwards. A rare occurrence.
“The legs didn’t keep, and I just barely got to the finish,” Pogačar acknowledged. “But it’s all good. In the end it’s a hard race, hard final, and I did my best.”
The 23-year-old’s 12th place finish was his lowest of the one-day races he’s competed in so far in 2022, but he doesn’t think it will have any bearing for Liège-Bastogne-Liège on Sunday, where he lines up as defending champion.
“When you think about it, two years ago I was ninth [at La Flèche Wallonne],” Pogačar explained. “It was a similar style of finish, like this year. Then in Liège I was in the front group. I’m fully motivated for Sunday.”
“I don’t see this as a weakness or anything,” Pogačar responded when asked about today’s performance. “It’s a one-day race, it happens, sometimes you can’t do your best day, sometimes you do really good.”
Usually, Tadej Pogačar does “really good”. Not since 2020 has he finished outside the top 10 in one of the big Classics. He will have another chance on Sunday at Liège-Bastogne-Liège.