Tadej Pogačar’s mistakes

A new reality set in at this Tour de France, and Tadej Pogačar recognized it too late.

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Somewhere on the Col du Granon lie the Tour de France hopes of Tadej Pogačar, crumpled alongside the beer cans and caravan trinkets and other markers of overzealousness. 

For a week and a half, Pogačar put on a smile. Clad in white, not yellow, he sat in press conferences and outside his team bus and spoke of chances to come. He promised attacks, winking cheekily at a brighter future. You sensed optimism, if not outright confidence, that his opponent would falter and the Tour de France that was always supposed to be his would be once again. 

On Saturday, he entered a stuffy, airless gymnasium just after 6:30 pm, flanked by a press officer and security, and walked slowly to the black table at the head of the room. He has made this trek twice before, wearing a different color. 

Sitting slowly, he picked up a Tour de France branded microphone so that it dangled away from him, scanning the room as the first questions came in. Then he spoke of mistakes. 

Mistakes made by him, mistakes from his team. Mistakes as opportunities. Mistakes as a reason why, for the first time in three years, his press conference isn’t the marquee event, why half the press room hasn’t even stood up from their laptops. Why he was dropped on the Granon, why he kept trying on Spandelles. Why he lost. 

“A lot of mistakes have been made,” he said.

Like what? 

“Nothing huge. A lot of small mistakes have been made. We can for sure improve. Try to get better, it’s all the little things. I think we can do it.” 

Specifically, though. 

He sighed. 

“One mistake I did was the stage Col du Granon, I was too…” He struggles for the right word for a moment. “Too… motivated to cover everyone and I paid in the end really hard,” he said. “That’s one mistake on my side. for sure there are more. I will analyze after the Tour. There have been a lot of factors, we could go all day on.” 

There is a sense that Pogačar is suddenly contending with a new reality, one that has been in effect since the start of July but that nobody was fully aware of until that day on the Granon. He struggles with it in front of us, looking for the words to describe what he thinks went wrong. 

This is no longer a world where Pogačar can ride away as he pleases, where he can follow any move he likes and then add on an attack of his own. This Tour de France was not one he could win in moments of his own choosing, where he could attack and look back and see nothing more than a clean wheel. This was a Tour fought between equals, not a Tour that was Pogačar’s to lose. His greatest mistake was in not recognizing this soon enough.

The Granon mistake began many kilometers before that final climb, on the slopes of the Telegraphe and then the Galibier, the site of a coordinated tactical effort on the part of Jumbo-Visma to take advantage of this new reality, and take advantage of Pogačar’s incomprehension of just how much had changed around him.

Now he knows. It makes him hungry, he said. “More eager to win more,” he said. “I like challenges in life, and I see a really big challenge this year in Jonas, who I couldn’t beat.”

A new reality has set in, and what were once the eccentricities of a champion are now the mistakes of second place. 

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