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Pogaçar: anatomy of an icon

26 July 2022
Pogaçar: anatomy of an icon

Win or lose, Tadej Pogaçar is the most exciting rider of a generation. 

Here, Campagnolo uncovers the physiological and psychological reasons behind his success. Tadej Pogaçar is a phenomenon, a rider who shows what happens when you dream bigger. 

The Slovenian, who uses Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset and Bora Ultra WTO wheels, has been described as the new Eddy Merckx and with good reason, his professional palmares including 43 wins at the time of writing at the tender age of 23. 

Like Campagnolo, he won’t stop there. 

Like Campagnolo, he has an unstoppable belief that everything can be improved upon. It’s what makes Pogacar so special – as does his unbeatable physiology and impregnable mindset.





Pogaçar is a biological monster. Need convincing? Pogaçar’s trainer, Inigo San-Millan, undertook an investigation to lift the lid on elite riders’ physiology. 

The paper, entitled Metabolomics of Endurance Capacity in World Tour Professional Cyclists, featured in the journal Frontiers in Physiology and focused on their metabolic profile when undertaking a graded exercise test to exhaustion.

After a 15-minute warm-up, the 21 elite cyclists started cycling at relatively low intensity of 2 watts per kilogramme (w/kg) of bodyweight. Intensity cranked up by 0.5w/kg every 10 minutes. 

Power output, heart rate and lactate (via taking blood) were measured throughout the test including at the end of the test when the riders were exhausted.



What did they find? 

One of the key discoveries, which San-Millan has declared publicly about Pogaçar in particular, is the impressive capacity to recycle lactate. When speaking to journalist James Witts, San-Millan revealed:

“We’re learning more about the composition of the muscle fibres. How, for example, the fast-twitch fibres, which are needed for sprinting and climbing, generate a huge amount of lactate. This is what we call ‘highly glycolytic’. There’s no fat-burning; just glucose. The problem is, the more your muscles use glucose, the more lactate is produced because it’s a by-product of glucose utilisation."

“This lactate builds up and hydrogen ions associated with lactate increase acidosis of the muscle micro-environment and decreases contraction capacity [power output]. It’s critical to clear that lactate. It’s been shown that world-class athletes produce more lactate because they have a higher glycolytic capacity and can also clear it more proficiently. Well, Tadej has one of the greatest glycolytic capacities I’ve ever seen.”.


In short, that means when Pogaçar shifts into the big ring of his Campagnolo Super Record EPS and lays down the power, he can do so, recover and go again, explaining his unrivalled ability to attack, attack and attack

Like Campagnolo, it helps him rise above adversity time and time again.





Pogaçar and his teammates use an SRM Campagnolo Power Meter for highly accurate training feedback. Power meters are omnipresent in the professional peloton and help a rider – and coach – target specific physiological adaptations depending on the aim of that particular period of the season

So in the off-season, they might stick to around low-intensity zone two to build aerobic base, improve fat-burning capacity and to help hit race weight. As the race season approaches, they might hit zone five during interval efforts to build speed and power.

Pogaçar’s a power-meter native, meaning he’s trained by watts since an early age. He’s been exposed to technologies like this and power-meter software Training Peaks for a long time, meaning he manages his progress methodically, lowering the chances of overtraining, burnout and illness. 

A study once proved the expected: that the secret to Olympic success is simply consistency of training. Ultimately, the ability to monitor a rider on a daily basis has been a physiological gamechanger.





One of the key differentiators between the elites and recreational cyclists is emotional intelligence; in other words, the ability to identify and manage your own emotions

Let’s dig a little deeper. We have three parts to our brains: the instinctive part, the high-reasoning part and in between you have the intuitive brain. This part is about picking up signals from your body and interpreting them accordingly. It’s called interoception.

A world-class athlete like Pogaçar punishes himself in training not only to physically adapt but also so that come the high intensity of the races, he’s totally tuned in to the signals from his body

Pogaçar’s heart would pound and breathing rate would rise but he wouldn’t fear this.



Emotionally, he can interpret these signs in a constructive way, accepting that these feelings are part of the process of improving performance. Pogaçar could stop but he knew that while it was painful now, it’d be wonderful in the end. 

Pain is an emotion. And if you start thinking about it, you struggle with it and slow down. Elites like Pogaçar subconsciously know this, manage their emotions and delay gratification.

Another mental box ticked is that Pogaçar, like Campagnolo legend Eddy Merckx, is an out-and-out racer. He thrives in the competitive amphitheatre and trains to race. Some riders, on the other hand, blossom in training but wilt at the races. 



Need evidence? When Pogaçar lost time on the Col du Granon, his instant reaction wasn’t to hide and shun the press; instead, a relaxed Pogacar commented:

“Maybe tomorrow it’s me who gets three minutes.”

Simply put, the Slovenian comes alive at whatever race he enters.

There you have it. A snapshot in what makes Pogaçar a once-in-a-generation rider. Throw in the world-leading gear he optimises from Campagnolo and you have the dream combination.



© TDW / Getty Images  

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