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Was Tadej Pogačar’s Giro d’Italia victory boring? And does it matter?

The Eternal City proved a fitting final location for a seemingly interminable Giro. But should pink jersey Pogačar’s relentless dominance leave us cheering to the rafters or yawning from our sofas?

The sight of Tadej Pogačar – clad in pink, tufts of his blonde-tinted fringe protruding from his cycling cap, his UAE Team Emirates colleagues watching on like a late 1990s Team Telekom tribute act – lifting the Trofeo Senza Fine, the never-ending trophy, in the Eternal City of Rome, proved a rather fitting image to mark the conclusion of one of the most interminable editions of the Giro d’Italia in recent memory.

Alright, maybe that’s a touch harsh.

But let’s face it – after taking the pink jersey and building a 45 second lead on the second stage to Oropa (after being shockingly bested in the sprint the previous day by non-script reading upstart Jhonatan Narváez), the relentless inevitability of Pogačar’s maiden Giro triumph this month was seemingly threatened by only two things. And they weren’t any of his rivals on the road.

One was the alarmingly red nose that dominated social media discussion in the middle of the race, fuelling ultimately unfounded rumours of a Remco-style withdrawal as sickness swept through the peloton (though to be fair, Bruce Springsteen has just postponed his upcoming Milan gigs due to illness, proving anything can happen in Italy to even the most indefatigable of performers).

The second centred on the bizarre scenes that circulated not long after the start of Saturday’s penultimate stage to Bassano del Grappa, as the Slovenian gestured theatrically at both his team car and the race’s medical vehicle. Was there something wrong? Has bad luck cruelly struck on the cusp of history? No. Pogačar was simply asking for some sunscreen wipes to combat the belatedly appearing Italian sunshine.

And that was that.

Tadej Pogačar, stage 20, 2024 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

The pink panther strikes on Monte Grappa (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Even by the 25-year-old’s Cannibalesque standards, Pogačar was utterly relentless this Giro. He wore the pink jersey all the way from the second stage to Rome. He won six stages, including five in the maglia rosa, a record he now shares with Merckx himself. He won the mountains jersey by accident. For the most part, when he attacked it was like he was riding a different race, such was the indifference in the main GC group to his whims.

The UAE Team Emirates leader’s winning margin over Dani Martínez and his breakthrough grand tour ride was just four seconds shy of 10 minutes. Geraint Thomas, still battling with the best at 38, was 10.24 down in third. The top ten were separated by over 21 minutes, the top 15 by almost 40. For comparison, last year’s Giro top 10 was more closely packed in terms of time than the 2024 podium.

Geraint Thomas, stage 15, 2024 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Thomas: Still going strong at 38 (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

Viewed from a historical perspective, Pogačar’s dominance over all of his rivals is even more striking. Over the last two decades, only four editions of the Giro before this year were won by more than two minutes (eight, in fact, were won by less than a minute, and two by under 20 seconds).

Two of those were courtesy of a Vincenzo Nibali (a 4.43 winning margin over Rigoberto Urán in 2013) and a Nairo Quintana (2.58 over Urán in 2014) at their peak.

The other two saw pre-Puerto Ivan Basso inflict a 9.18 demolition job on José Enrique Gutiérrez, while at the ill-fated 2011 Giro Alberto Contador beat Michele Scarponi by 6.10. But Contador ended up losing that title thanks to his clenbuterol positive at the previous year’s Tour, so the official winning margin now stands at 46 seconds, anyway.

Tadej Pogačar, UAE Team Emirates, 2024 Giro d'Italia

> Death, taxes, and Tadej Pogačar dominating a bike race: What we learned as Pogačar and Grace Brown win Liège-Bastogne-Liège

Of course, the scale of Pogačar’s dominance quickly resulted in a flurry of social media tirades, accusing the Slovenian of the worst thing a pro cyclist can do in 2024 – making a race boring. Oh, how times have changed.

Even before the Giro – his first grand tour win for almost three years, I’ll remind you – Pogačar’s face was plastering the dartboards of fans hungry for suspense and intrigue, and finding it sorely lacking in his historic, long-range spring classic winning moves.

In April, after the UAE Team Emirates rider soloed to a processional Liège-Bastogne-Liège triumph, one writer for another UK-based cycling outlet even claimed, thanks to the Pog and MVDP-athon that was the spring campaign, “men’s cycling has never been more bleak for fans” (You want bleak? Try the yellow jersey being kicked off the race days from Paris, 12 months after the Tour winner who made it to Paris was stripped of his win days later. That was bleak).

Yes, Pogačar is crushingly dominant (At the moment. Remember, it was the Slovenian on the wrong end of a cricket score at last year’s Tour). But is he boring?

Tadej Pogačar, stage 15, 2024 Giro d’Italia (Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

(Zac Williams/SWpix.com)

First off, it’s hard to argue against this year’s Giro, the victim of an odd, largely toothless route designed to woo a Giro-Tour double chasing Pog (even before the Stelvio’s snowy omission), being a bit of a snore fest.

The top four on GC after the difficult stage seven time trial to Perugia – Pogačar, Martínez, Thomas, and Ben O’Connor – would remain locked in that order all the way to Rome, save for a brief game of leapfrog between Thomas and Martínez at the end of the second week.

But that GC ennui wasn’t Pogačar’s fault. He remained attacking, swashbuckling to the last, not content to sit back and let the rest fight over the crumbs. He didn’t just smash the Giro to pieces, he raced it.

Basically bike races, and especially grand tours, can be won in three ways.

There’s the dramatic, tight, nip-and-tuck battle. Think 1989. Or Pogačar last-gasp debut Tour win in 2020. Then there’s the historic, unrelenting, era-defining acts of supremacy, a la Coppi, Merckx, or Pogačar’s 2021 Tour victory. In the moment, fans prefer the former, naturally, but come to appreciate the latter down the line, as a fundamental part of the sport’s heritage.

The third way, of course, is when a rider or team has such an imperious grip on the race that they impose a suffocating stranglehold on it, usually exemplified by an early display of shock and awe followed by two weeks of unerring control. You know, the US Postal or Sky template. Pogačar and UAE Team Emirates are yet to adopt that method, thankfully. Yet.

Tadej Pogačar wins the 2024 Giro d'Italia

Come July, cycling fans will prove themselves a fickle bunch, as they will Mark Cavendish – the most dominant sprinter in the sport’s history – towards that record breaking 35th Tour stage win, weeks after bemoaning Pogačar (once again, on his way to a first grand tour win since 2021) laying another set of foundations for his own bourgeoning legacy.

In any case, this Giro still had plenty to offer the neutral in terms of excitement – the return of Alaphilippe the swashbuckler, the emergence of a proper Italian hope in Giulio Pellizzari, the breakaway exploits of Georg Steinhauser.

And, even if your eyes were in danger of closing together for most of this year’s Corsa Rosa, don’t worry. Because, the recovery times of injured favourites notwithstanding, there’s always July and France to come. Now, what’s happened there the last few years?

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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19 comments

Avatar
D.Railleur | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

A brilliant tour. Watched every pedal stroke. Imagine how dull it would have been without Pogi.

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RobD | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

I'd much rather watch Pogacar go on the attack and try to chase down a break to win the stage than watch a team try to slowly drop everyone off the back of their leader's wheel until they slowly pull away for the last kilmoeter or two. Yes Pogacar was dominant, but it was exciting wondering if/when he was going to attack and then marvelling at simply how impressive it is.

Avatar
Steve K | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Clearly, a closer GC contest would be more exciting in some ways, but I don't think you can describe such a display of sporting prowess as boring. Plus there was enough excitement in the individual stages to keep things interesting - much of it provided by Julian Alaphilippe. And if Milan had somehow managed to win the sprint in Rome after that late mechanical, then that would have been right up there as one of the great performances.

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cmedred | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

I don't know. UAE looked a lot like the Postal of the 1999 Tour where Armstrong won four stages. 

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MattieKempy | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

I'm afraid it was boring. Impressive, but boring. 

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Rendel Harris replied to MattieKempy | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

MattieKempy wrote:

I'm afraid it was boring. Impressive, but boring. 

Respectfully, I can't see how watching the best guy tear it up on mountain stages with solo breakaways can be boring. When I was a lot younger, watching Miguel Indurain win five Tours without winning a single road stage in any of them, now that was boring. See also Chris Froome winning the 2017 Tour without winning a single stage of any sort. Honestly, we've spent years saying how dull it is to have superstrong teams just nursing their nominated leader through staring at their powermeters all the time, now we've got someone with astonishing panache who wants to win for fun and who goes for it even when he doesn't need to and we're saying that's dull?

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Cycloid | 2 weeks ago
3 likes

Something we have not seen since the days of Coppi, Anquetil, Merckx.

You've just seen history being made.

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EM69 | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

No & No

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Mr_KeithG | 2 weeks ago
5 likes

Was lucky enough to be in Siena to see his Strade Bianche win - felt privileged. This Giro was like watching 5 astonishing monument victories from Tadej. He's not yet a "collectivist" grinding out crushing wins rather he wins with sheer exhuberance with spectacular feats and the sport is all the better for it I feel.

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dubwise | 2 weeks ago
1 like

Ryan, would you ask this if he raced for Ineos?

Le Tour became very boring watching Sky dominate everyone from km zero.p

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Rendel Harris | 2 weeks ago
9 likes

It was boring in the way that watching Viv Richards make a century or Ronnie O'Sullivan make a 147 is boring, an absolute master at the top of their game revelling in their talent, wonderful. I've watched every day avidly and was never bored; apart from the thrill of watching Pog's magnificent riding there were plenty of excellent subplots, Alaphilippe's resurgence as a GT stage winner and winner of the combativity award, Pellizarri and Steinhauser laying down markers as lads who might eventually come through as winners themselves, the battle for the sprinter's jersey between Milan and Merlier...and throughout the race Pogacar's classy demeanour and above all his sheer joy in riding a bike shone through. It was great.

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Cyclo1964 replied to Rendel Harris | 2 weeks ago
8 likes

Glad you said Viv Richards and not Geoff Boycott 🤣

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Rendel Harris replied to Cyclo1964 | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Cyclo1964 wrote:

Glad you said Viv Richards and not Geoff Boycott 🤣

Saw them both in their pomp, Viv Richards batting would, as the saying goes at cricket, empty the bars; Boycott batting could fill them.

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mitchibob | 2 weeks ago
4 likes

Awesome display from the Pog and team, and some great insight during from the Watts Occurring Pod (#GTCC). Hard not to appreciate what Pog can do. Did wonder if G could get back to 2nd, but Welshman on podium again, I'll take that, as I'm sure he has. Some race that! Can't wait for Tour. Wonder if we'll see G in Cav's sprint train again?

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espressodan | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

No. Best Giro in years.

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kingleo | 2 weeks ago
1 like

 Boring: no, It was the same with Mercx - in some grand tours he was often the best climber, best sprinter, best descender, best time trialist and had the best team -  it was never boring to watch the grand tours and I watched a lot of them with Merckx riding.

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dubwise | 2 weeks ago
1 like

No

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Steve K replied to dubwise | 2 weeks ago
0 likes

To which question?

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dubwise replied to Steve K | 2 weeks ago
2 likes

Both, I suppose.

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