Tadej Pogacar will only turn 22 on Monday, but he is already the biggest challenger to yellow jersey wearer Primoz Roglic in his first Tour de France.
The Slovenian top talent is one of the exponents of the new generation of cyclists, who no longer wait calmly for his chance, but compete with the top at a young age.
Alexander Kristoff seemed to realize immediately after the first stage in Nice that he had achieved a very special performance for this Tour.
"I am 33 years old, have four children and yet I won in the biggest cycling race in the world. That should give everyone hope."
It gives the older rider some hope, because it is mainly the youth that stands out in France.
Roglic (30) is the only person in his thirties with a stage victory next to Kristoff.
Daniel Martinez (24), Lennard Kämna (24), Wout van Aert (26), Nans Peters (26), Søren Kragh Andersen (26), Caleb Ewan (26), but especially Pogacar (21) refuted the last two and a half weeks idea that experience and toughness are the most important in cycling.
"In the new cycling, young riders are already so well prepared for professional life, they already know almost everything when they get into the peloton. They may have to gain some experience, but otherwise they are not afraid of anything", says Marco Marcato.
The 36-year-old Italian from UAE Team Emirates is a mentor to his 15-year-younger teammate Pogacar, although he emphasizes that this is not a very difficult job.
"I've seen a lot of races, so I'm trying to pass on some of my experiences to Tadej", Marcato laughs.
"But he's very mature for his age and very, very well trained, even for a three-week race."
Tadej Pogacar is nine years younger than Primoz Roglic. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Tadej Pogacar is nine years younger than Primoz Roglic.
(Photo: Pro Shots)
New generation of riders are not at the back of the row
As an average young man in your twenties, you knew not long ago what to expect when you became a professional cyclist: you first had to ride in front for a few years and learn from your older teammates and then you could carefully inquire whether you once could go for your own chance.
"That is no longer the case", says sports director Merijn Zeeman of Jumbo-Visma, who signed the only eighteen-year-old sprint talent Olav Kooij for next season last month.
"Now a young rider does some physical tests in the winter and it immediately becomes clear that he has a great bike. Combine that with self-confidence and they can immediately be in the races."
"Pogacar and also Remco Evenepoel (the twenty-year-old top talent from Belgium, ed.) Are examples of this," Zeeman continues.
"They really will not wait for an older rider to say: now is your turn. They feel that they already have the level to compete with the top. That is typical of this generation: they are not going to join the back of the row. , but want to do it right now. "
Tadej Pogacar has already won this Tour two stages. (Photo: Pro Shots)
Tadej Pogacar has already won this Tour two stages.
(Photo: Pro Shots)
'Training methods have changed a lot'
Moreover, young (top) riders can nowadays be discovered much earlier by professional teams due to technological developments.
"The training methods have changed a lot in cycling", says Marcato, who started his career in 2005. "Now you train when you are sixteen or seventeen with a wattage and a heart rate monitor and you undergo exercise tests. In short, you already work as a prof. "
Exercise tests and watt meters give teams a simple and objective way to scout for potential assets.
"Until about ten years ago, scouting was all about results", says Aike Visbeek, who was sports director at Sunweb for many years and is now team manager of the large training team SEG Racing Academy.
"As a result, you soon missed talents with a large engine but with little racing experience. Thanks to the power meters, those riders now come to the surface immediately."
According to Zeeman, the more professional guidance of talents also ensures that it becomes clear at an early age whether a rider is willing to live like a real professional.
"Boys like Pogacar and Evenepoel have come into contact with what you have to do to become a top cyclist much younger than the previous generation. And that is incredibly demanding, it is not for everyone to spend four weeks on a mountain for a altitude internship. It is a very specific group of boys who can manage that. "
Pogacar can do that, and with four days to go, he still has a chance to become the youngest Tour winner ever.
"But after that a big challenge will follow," said Zeeman.
"Because can you also remain stable if you are so good at this young age, and get so much attention and earn a lot of money? We still have to wait and see with this generation of young top cyclists: will they participate structurally with the top for five years?"
See also: View the classifications of the Tour de France with Dumoulin in ninth place