Young Cyclist Dreams of Being Like His Idol Tadej Pogacar

At the Pogi Cup in Slovenia, 14-year-old Urban Hvastija dreams of becoming as good as his idol, Tadej Pogacar. “He is the best rider in the world and a great role model for all of us young riders,” said Urban. He finished second in the race, which is held every June in Komenda, a town near Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana. The race is for riders aged eight to 19 years.

Tadej Pogacar, who is from the same town, is aiming to win his third Tour de France title. He recently won the Giro d’Italia for the first time. His success, along with that of fellow Slovenian cyclists Primoz Roglic and Matej Mohoric, has sparked a cycling boom in Slovenia, a country with only two million people.

“Years ago, we had barely 50 kids in the juvenile team. Now we have more than 200,” said Pogacar’s father, Mirko, who helps organize the Pogi Cup. He thinks Slovenia’s rise in cycling is like a fairytale that might not happen again for another fifty years.

Pogacar won the Tour de France in 2020 and 2021 and was the runner-up for the last two years. He is now trying to become the first rider in 26 years to win both the Tour and the Giro in the same season. Mirko remembers his son as an “unstoppable and skillful” child who always found ways to practice cycling. Tadej and his older brother Tilen would ride their bikes on a path they made across a mound of soil in a neighbor’s yard.

When Tadej was eight, he wanted to join the Rog cycling club outside Ljubljana like his brother. But there was no bike small enough for him, so he had to wait months until they found one. Mirko said his son was “always among the shortest kids” and had to work harder to compete. Once Tadej grew, he became much better than those who were bigger at first.

Now, Tadej Pogacar, who rides for the UAE Team Emirates, is at the top of the UCI World ranking. He is 25 years old and won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics. Mirko said his son sets goals for himself in cycling and works hard to achieve them. “To become a champion, all parts of the puzzle have to fit. If even one piece is missing, the picture is not right,” he said. “Tadej is only now entering his best riding years, between 25 and 27, so he might have quite a few more good years.”

Pogacar’s first coach, Miha Koncilija, believes the Slovenian rider, known as ‘Pogi’, is at his peak but still has room for improvement. “He simply enjoys riding, training, and beating his rivals,” Koncilija said just days before the 2024 Tour de France.

Pogacar is also expected to join Slovenia’s cycling team at the Paris Olympics next month and compete in the Cycling World Championship in September in Switzerland. After the Giro, Pogacar said, “We’ve checked one of the boxes; two or three more remain for this season.”

Koncilija said Pogacar is handling his fame well. “Being the best rider in the world is not easy and brings a lot of pressure. But he still stops to talk to his fans, gives autographs, and stays motivated,” he said.

The Tour de France will start in Florence, Italy, on Saturday and finish in Nice, France, on July 21.

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