SAN BENEDETTO DEL TRONTO, Italy (AP) — Two stage races. Two overall victories.
Tadej Pogačar is preparing perfectly to defend his Tour de France title.
The Slovenian won the weeklong Tirreno-Adriatico race by a comfortable margin ahead of a stellar field Tuesday, adding to his title in the UAE Tour last month.
“What a fantastic start to the season,” Pogačar said. “This is one of the biggest one-week races.”
After placing fourth in the concluding time trial, Pogačar finished 1 minute, 3 seconds ahead of Wout van Aert in the overall standings of the sea-to-sea race.
Mikel Landa finished third overall, 3:57 behind. Egan Bernal, the 2019 Tour winner, finished fourth, more than 4 minutes behind Pogačar.
The 22-year-old Pogačar won one stage in both the UAE Tour and the Tirreno, having taken Saturday’s “queen” leg that finished with a grueling climb to Prati di Tivo.
Pogačar also gained time against all of his overall rivals in Sunday’s fifth stage, which featured a circuit over a series of short climbs or “walls,” when he nearly caught breakaway rider Mathieu van der Poel.
“Stage 5 in the cold, wet weather. That’s the stage I will never forget,” said Pogačar, who rides for UAE Team Emirates.
Van Aert, who rides for the Jumbo-Visma team, won the time trial for his second stage win of the race.
Van Aert clocked 11:06 along the entirely flat 10.1-kilometer (6.3-mile) route in San Benedetto del Tronto on the Adriatic coast. European champion Stefan Küng finished second, six seconds behind, and world champion Filippo Ganna was third, 11 seconds behind — ending his winning streak in time trials at eight.
“I’m improving in this discipline every year a little bit,” van Aert said. “It was my first time aiming for GC in a stage race and I only got beaten by the Tour de France winner. I’ll try more of this in the future but for now I have the classics in my mind, starting with Milano-Sanremo.”
Pogačar finished one second behind Ganna in the stage.
Up next on the World Tour calendar is the Milan-San Remo classic on Saturday, although Pogačar is not entering that race. He’ll next compete in the Tour of the Basque Country in April, followed by the Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège single-day races.
“But first,” he said, “I want to rest a little bit.”
The multi-talented van Aert also won the opening stage in a sprint. He’ll be looking to defend his Milan-San Remo title.
“I felt really good this week and I saw last year that I really improved my form afterward,” the Belgian rider said. “Now I’ve got to recover as good as possible.
“But I saw a lot of strong riders this week,” van Aert added, “so I’m definitely not the only favorite.”
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