The Tour de France in the upcoming year is about to undergo some significant changes, and it's not just about the altered route that will see it kick off in Italy and wrap up in Nice instead of Paris. The real transformation lies in the fact that Tadej Pogačar will no longer be competing for the white jersey.
Yes, you read that correctly. The 2023 edition marked the end of Pogačar's eligibility for the young rider's classification, a category he's pretty much owned since he burst onto the scene in 2020 and, in the process, clinched the white jersey by default.
As he celebrated his 25th birthday, Pogačar officially graduated from the ranks of "young rider" in professional cycling, signaling his transition into the league of seasoned pros. Time marches on relentlessly. Considering the rollercoaster ride the world has experienced in recent years, it feels somewhat surreal to think of Pogačar as a seasoned cyclist.
In just a short span, the UK has seen three different Prime Ministers while maintaining the same government, and Pogačar has gone from a mere eight wins before 2020 to an impressive 62 victories. Although Egan Bernal initially set the stage for young riders with his Tour de France victory at the age of 22 in 2019, Pogačar took the youth movement to a whole new level with his dominant performances.
Riders like Remco Evenepoel and Juan Ayuso have followed his lead, continuing the era of prodigious young talents. It's highly likely that Pogačar will be remembered as the most dominant rider in the young rider's category in history.
Out of the 22 elite stage races he's taken part in, he's clinched the youth classification in a staggering 18 of them, including four Tour de France wins and one Vuelta a España triumph. While Evenepoel has notched up 11 wins out of 21 attempts and still has time to break records, Pogačar's association with the white jersey seems unbreakable, primarily thanks to his Tour de France dominance.
His consistent presence on the podium, perpetually claiming the prize sponsored by French eyewear company Krys, has become a familiar sight.
Tour de France Dominance
Though his supremacy in the competition is most evident at the Tour, Pogačar's first Grand Tour white jersey came in 2019 at the Vuelta, where he introduced himself to the world with three stage wins.
Despite increased competition from other young talents, none have quite matched Pogačar's accomplishments. From his debut to his final eligible appearance, Pogačar held the white jersey for an astounding 75 days at the Tour de France.
Since putting on the maillot blanc after stage four of the 2020 Tour, he only briefly lost the lead to Bernal for six days in the same race. It's almost as if the white jersey was tailor-made for Pogačar, given how effortlessly he reclaimed it year after year.
In 2020, he outpaced Enric Mas by 6 minutes and 7 seconds, in 2021 he bested Jonas Vingegaard by 5 minutes and 20 seconds, in 2022 he dominated Tom Pidcock by an astonishing 58 minutes and 32 seconds, and this year, he triumphed over Carlos Rodríguez by 5 minutes and 48 seconds.
These margins are simply mind-boggling. Granted, the absence of other top young riders like Evenepoel, Ayuso, and João Almeida at the Tour has played a role, but that's precisely the point. Pogačar's remarkable consistency and wisdom beyond his years allowed UAE Team Emirates to thrust him into the world's biggest race from the get-go, and he consistently delivered.
So, what's next for Pogačar now that he's no longer officially a young rider? One thing is certain: he will keep on winning. Despite suffering a fractured hand during Liège-Bastogne-Liège and narrowly missing out on a second consecutive Tour de France victory this year, he notched an impressive 16 wins, securing his position at the top of the professional wins chart.
He still stakes a claim as the world's best rider, having conquered Paris-Nice, the Tour of Flanders, and securing a second-place finish at the Tour in the same season. The central question surrounding this generation of young riders remains: can they sustain their success and dominance? In Pogačar's case, the winning is far from over.