Pogacar wins in yellow at Alcalá la Real.Pepe Torres (EFE)
On the modest pebbles of the ascent to the Castle of Alcalá la Real, sparkling under the wheels in homage to León Felipe, a very hard track, Tadej Pogacar and Enric Mas fight on their bikes. It is the end of the second stage of the Ruta del Sol in the mountains of Jaén. It’s the Slovene’s second victory at the Tour of Andalusia, a monster who doesn’t give up on winning and he wins every race. Three ran in 2023, all three in the mountains and hills of Jaén, and three won. “But I didn’t think I would win at the castle,” Pogacar tries to apologize. “They just attacked me and I had to follow the attacks and react.”
“Ha!” says Eusebio Unzue, the manager of Movistar, Enric Mas’ team. “Pogacar is pure ambition, it’s no less insatiable than Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault was. If he can win, he’ll never stop trying and he won’t let anyone win.”
The confirmation of Unzue, who is gaining weight, and the strength of the Slovenian, who at 24 has already been established at the top of world cycling for three years because he always wins very easily – “exaggeratedly light, surprisingly light, with the ease that superiority “, specifies Unzue, who is not new to cycling since he has been directing cyclists for more than 40 years – it would be enough to depress his rivals, with whom it is exactly the same in Andalusia, with whom he faced last autumn at the Italian classics, Enric Mas and Mikel Landa, apart from young Carlos Rodríguez, and the three want to be their worst enemies at the Tour de France in July as well.
what to do with it How to survive him? What to do with the ogre Pogacar?
“What can we do with it? Enjoy it…” replies Landa, who, 29 kilometers from Alcalá Real, a town nestled between rocks and touching the province of Granada, accelerates ahead of all favorites in the full ascent to the Hoya de Charilla pass, only to do so after just a few meters Pogacar has confirmed. The Slovenian is content to follow his bike 800 meters and then gives him the first relay. He hits it so hard that he pins Alava’s player and he continues on his own without looking back. There is no hidden irony in Landa’s words, spoken shortly after the end of the stage, but the sincerity of a cyclist who enjoys admiring both the great champions of cycling who make it such a sport and the brave ones Actions that make him a star himself. “I’ve never seen anyone so superior and so versatile. I didn’t live to see Merckx’s time, but I think it would be something similar or even more impressive. When cycling with so many specialists like today, it seems incredible to me that you can win a Tour de France yourself or take part in the Tour of Flanders.”
“Not giving up at all,” says Unzue, who has spoken to his agent and has his morale high despite the meltdown that caused him to lose a minute on day one and Pogacar’s vigorous response to his attack on the castle’s pebbles was. “Enric doesn’t eat his head. He’s fine, he’s happy. This is still the first day of qualifying in an overly tough race.” Unzue is in high spirits as his team has started the year well, with sprint wins for his Colombian newcomer Fernando Gaviria, as well as stage and overall wins at the Tour of Saudi Arabia (Rubén Guerreiro ) and the Tour of Oman (Matteo Jorgenson). Both victories have the added value of having occurred at the two races staged to date in the Arabian Peninsula, the very territory where Unzue is optimistic about the arrival of a co-sponsor to complement revenues from Telefónica, the company co-hosting one who believes he will achieve a Movistar sponsorship renewal by 2026.
Mas’ morale, Unzue recalls, is kept up by the memory that he was the only one in the world to hold his own in the Italian Autumn Classics against Pogacar, who lost the Giro de Lombardy in a close two-handed sprint and who was with him Jonas Vingegaard at the Tour, the only cyclist to beat him in a one-on-one, the climb to San Luca del Giro dell’Emilia, and in Alcalá la Real they both felt once again above the universe.
And the Mallorcan’s joy in defeating the one who never gives anything away, the immense value of this victory, is also Landa’s hope. “Not at all overwhelmed!” says the man from Alava. “Just like in the 2015 Giro, I became great because I attacked Contador. If one day I can attack this alien, it will all be worth it.”
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