On the humble pebbles of the ascent to the castle of Alcala la Real that sparkle under the wheels in homage to Leon Felipe, a very hard slope, Tadej Pogacar and Enric Mas fight on their bicycles. It is, in the mountains of Jaen, the end of the second stage of the Ruta del Sol. It is the second victory in the Andalusian tour of the Slovenian, an ogre who does not give up trying to win, and wins, all the races he disputes. Three have run in 2023, all three in the mountains and hills of Jaen, and three have won. “But I didn’t think I’d win at the castle,” Pogacar tries to apologize. “They just attacked me and I had to follow the attacks and respond.”
“Ha!” says Eusebio Unzue, the manager of Movistar, Enric Mas’ team. “Pogacar is pure ambition, it is no less insatiable than Eddy Merckx or Bernard Hinault were. If he can win, he’s never going to stop trying, and he’s not going to let anyone win.”
The confirmation of Unzue, whose weight is increasing, and the power of the Slovenian who, at 24 years old, has already been established at the top of world cycling for three years, because he always wins very easily – “exaggeratedly easy, surprisingly easy, with the ease that superiority gives ”, specifies Unzue, who is not a newcomer to cycling, as he has been directing cyclists for more than 40 years -, it would be enough to depress his rivals, who in Andalusia are precisely the same with whom he fought last autumn in the Italian classics, Enric Mas and Mikel Landa, apart from the young Carlos Rodriguez, and the three also want to be their worst enemies in the Tour de France in July.
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 Alcala Real, a town nestled between rocks and touching the province of Granada, in full ascent to the Hoya de Charilla pass accelerates ahead of all the favorites to verify that in a few meters already has Pogacar behind him. The Slovenian is satisfied with following his wheel for 800 meters, and then gives him the first relay. He hits it so hard that he leaves the player from Alava nailed, and continues alone without looking back. There is no hidden irony in Landa’s words, spoken shortly after finishing the stage, but rather the sincerity of a cyclist who enjoys both admiring cycling’s great champions, who make him such a sport, and the bold actions he himself stars. “I have never seen someone so superior and so versatile. I didn’t live through Merckx’s time, but I think it would be something similar, or even more impressive. In cycling with so many specialists like today, it seems incredible to me that oneself is winning a Tour de France or competing in the Tour of Flanders”.
“Not at all to give up,” says Unzue, who has spoken with his broker and has seen his morale high despite the breakdown that caused him to lose a minute on the first day and Pogacar’s forceful response to his attack on the castle’s pebbles. “Enric does not eat his head. He’s fine, fine, he’s happy. This is still the first day of the exam in an excessively tough race ”. Unzue is in high spirits because his team has started the year well, with sprint victories for his Colombian signing Fernando Gaviria, and stage and general victory in the Tour of Saudi Arabia (Ruben Guerreiro) and the Tour of Oman (Matteo Jorgenson). Both victories have the added value of having taken place in the two races held so far in the Arabian Peninsula, precisely the territory in which Unzue is optimistically negotiating the arrival of a co-sponsor to supplement the income provided by Telefonica, the company with the one that believes that it will reach a renewal until 2026 of the sponsorship of Movistar.
Mas’ morale, recalls Unzue, is sustained by the memory that he was the only one in the world who stood up to Pogacar in the autumn Italian classics, who lost the Giro de Lombardy in a tight two-handed sprint and who, together with Jonas Vingegaard in the Tour, the only cyclist who defeated him in a one-on-one, the climb to San Luca del Giro dell’Emilia, and in Alcala la Real they both once again felt above the universe.
And the joy of the Mallorcan, that of defeating the one who never gives anything away, the immense value of that victory, is also Landa’s hope. “Not overwhelmed at all!” Says the man from Alava. “Just like in the 2015 Giro I became great for attacking Contador, if one of these days I can attack this alien, it will all have been worth it.”
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Source: EL PAIS