Winner of the Amstel Gold Race, Tadej Pogacar wants to drive home the point on the Walloon Flèche on Wednesday at the top of the Mur de Huy before aiming for a rare hat-trick on Sunday in Liège.
At 24, the Slovenian, irresistible since the start of the season, continues to break down the walls and tick, box by box, an increasingly extensive shopping list.
Before turning to the reconquest of the Tour de France, he set himself a spring objective to match his growing excess: to win the three parts of the Ardennaises, the Amstel Gold Race, the Flèche wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
The feat has been achieved by only two men in the entire history of cycling, in 2011 by the Belgian Philippe Gilbert who, recently retired, now comments on the races on a motorcycle. And in 2004 by the Italian Davide Rebellin who also hung up his bike last October before tragically disappearing, run over by a truck during a bike ride in Italy.
To say that the case is within the ropes of Pogacar is an understatement, so much did he still disgust the competition on Sunday in Dutch Limburg. Powerless, his opponents were reduced to observing the Slovenian Pantagruel bottomless down half a beer on the podium to celebrate his new high-flying number, far ahead of the others.
“He made a festival,” noted Valentin Madouas.
Perhaps they will find reason for hope in the fact that the Arrow has never succeeded so far in Pogacar (12th in 2022, 9th in 2020, 53rd in 2019). But that looks like an anomaly because the route of the Belgian classic, with its eleven climbs, including the formidable Mur de Huy (1.3 km at 9.6%) to be climbed three times, has everything to please him.
– “The form is there” –
“It’s a tough race for me. I’ve never had a good result here. But the form is good so it should be possible to change that,” he said.
Especially since the main tamers of the wall of Huy in recent years will not be there.
The title holder, the Belgian Dylan Teuns, ill, gave up on Tuesday. Julian Alaphilippe, winner in 2018, 2019 and 2021, is injured in the knee. And Alejandro Valverde, four successes in a row between 2014 and 2017, has retired.
As for the other members of the brotherhood of gluttons, the Van Aert, Van der Poel, Vingegaard and Roglic, they will also be absent. Remco Evenepoel will only come to challenge Pogacar on Sunday in Liège-Bastogne-Liège for a duel between young prodigies that makes you salivate in advance.
Others, however, say they are ready to take up the gauntlet on Wednesday for the 87th edition of La Flèche, such as Tom Pidcock, David Gaudu, Enric Mas, Mikel Landa, Sergio Higuita, Daniel Martinez Warren Barguil or Romain Bardet.
But the presence of Pogacar still tends to dampen their enthusiasm a bit and many are increasingly complaining about running for second place when the Slovenian ogre is around.