Tadej Pogacar aims to halt Mathieu van der Poel's bid to emulate Merckx's 1975 record


Tadej Pogacar aims to halt Mathieu van der Poel's bid to emulate Merckx's 1975 record

Tadej Pogacar recons the Liege-Bastogne-Liege finale ahead of Sunday's race
Tadej Pogacar recons the Liege-Bastogne-Liege finale ahead of Sunday's raceAFP
Tadej Pogacar (25) stands in the way of Mathieu van der Poel's (29) bid to become the first man in almost half a century to win three of the big five one-day races in one season at Liege-Bastogne-Liege on Sunday.

Over the 259km, through the winding Ardennes forest lanes, Pogacar will be shadowed by the world champion van der Poel, lauded as the greatest classic rider of his generation since winning the ultra tough Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix cobbled classics.

Should Van der Poel win Sunday's final spring classic he would be the first man to capture three of the 'big five' monuments in a single season since legendary rider Eddy Merckx in 1975.

"Facing Mathieu is going to be a great fight," Pogacar said Friday.

"Even if I probably climb better than him, I feel he's capable of winning."

Van der Poel is fully aware of this, but has constantly found ways of exploiting the quirk of any race.

"I'm realistic enough to know that I would have difficulty keeping up with Remco (Evenepoel) and Tadej if they are at their best. They climb better," said the Dutchman at the recent Paris-Roubaix race.

For Pogacar the race also launches him on his ambitious quest for a Giro d'Italia-Tour de France double and allows him to lay to rest the ghost of a fall in which he broke his wrist last season.

Champion Evenepoel, former winner Primoz Roglic and Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard, all real threats, are injured.

"I wish them all a speedy recovery," said Pogacar.

"I have learned from personal experience that coming back after an accident takes a long time. Your body doesn't recover as quickly as your head."

'Impatient to race'

Liege-Bastogne-Liege is dotted with several steep climbs, one of them 12km from the finish in Liege after the riders swoop down into the town from the industrial neighbourhood above local football club Standard Liege's stadium where a breathless dash usually ensues.

Untouchable on the cobbled Monuments, Van der Poel spent the week warm in Spain, where he lives, to train and escape media attention.

Pogacar arrives with a very different dynamic. Focused on the Giro in May, he has not raced since his triumph at the Tour of Catalonia on March 24.

"I spent time at altitude to prepare for the Giro. My form is good and I am impatient to race again," he said.

He too cycled in the sun, sharing photos of his training outings under the blue sky of the Italian Riviera while a deluge of sleet fell on his colleagues competing at the Fleche Wallonne.

Sparks have flown most of the times the two men have gone head-to-head, especially at the Tour of Flanders, where Van der Poel won in 2022 before Pogacar took a stunning revenge in 2023.

Evenepoel won the last two editions with long range breaks while Amstel Gold winner Tom Pidcock won the chase for second place last year and will be accompanied by Egan Bernal in a strong Ineos team.


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