Bernard Hinault Defends Pogačar’s Dominance: “He’s Like Me and Merckx”

107th giro d'italia 2024 stage 8
Bernard Hinault: “He’s Like Me and Merckx” Dario Belingheri - Getty Images

One of the pervasive conversations around cycling this year has been whether or not Tadej Pogačar’s once-in-a-generation dominance is making the sport boring for viewers.

The grumbling hit a fever pitch after March’s Strade Bianche when the 25-year-old Slovenian wunderkind launched a winning attack from eighty kilometers out. And since he took over the maglia rosa after only two stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia, the conversation has been reignited.

But according to five-time Tour de France winner (and two-time Giro/Tour double winner) Bernard Hinault, the way Pogačar races is just fine. He even went as far as comparing Pogačar’s style to that of his own and another of cycling’s greatest: Eddy Merckx.

“Pogačar is like me and Merckx. We’re talking about different generations, but I like his character and his temperament. He’s a naturally born racer,” Hinault recently told Italian sports outlet Gazzetto dellaSport. “Every race he rides, he wants to win. He doesn’t always pull it off, but often he does. But that’s not the point. I like his attitude. He really is like me and Eddy.”

The biggest element that Hinault, Merckx, and Pogačar share is an insatiable need to win bike races, regardless of the context surrounding the day. That pure racer’s mentality was on full display in Stage 3 of the Giro when Pogačar launched a thrilling, but ultimately unsuccessful attack late in the race. It was a move that shocked everyone, from viewers and commentators to the other riders in the race. But Hinault understood the move intimately.

“I’m not surprised that he has wanted to win a lot so far in the Giro. I can’t see how he can’t be in pink in Rome,” Hinault added. “Why should he give any gifts? I don’t think anyone would gift him anything if they were in his shoes. He’s taking advantage of a moment of success, and he seems to be enjoying it. If he can win, he has to win. That’s sport.”

Those clamoring for more parity in bike racing might just get it over the next few weeks, as Pogačar—who holds a 0:02:40 lead over second place rider Dani Martínez of BORA-hansgrohe—hinted that he might race a bit more conservatively in the closing weeks of the Giro, to try and maintain his legs for the Tour while maintaining his lead.

“It’s in the back of my mind,” Pogačar said during Monday’s rest day of the Tour de France. “That’s why I’m happy I have a big gap. I don’t need to push too much over the limit.”

It’s a plan that Hinault, whose ever-aggressive racing style earned him the nickname “The Badger” (Le Blaireau in his native French), agrees with.

“He could decide to ease off a little in the third week, but he’s raced less in the first part of the season,” Hinault said. “He can pull off the Grand Tour double. We don’t know if Jonas Vingegaard will be at his best, so Pogačar has a great chance to make history.”

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