Tadej Pogačar won the Saitama Criterium on Sunday, dressed, for the very last time, in the white jersey awarded to the best young rider of the Tour de France.
UAE Emirates teammate Davide Formolo reminded the 25-year-old of the fact, yelling at him from a bright yellow team pit inside the Saitama Super Arena to enjoy his final appearance in the jersey, during which he beat Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and Peter Sagan (TotalEnergies) to line honours.
As the sun set on the prefecture and the 59.5km criterium, so did it too on a chapter of Pogačar’s career. Next season the two-time Tour champion won’t be eligible for the classification, which he has won four times consecutively since his race debut in 2020.
The feat, as his manager Alex Carera pointed out in a press conference, is a record, eclipsing Jan Ullrich and Andy Schleck, who each won it three times in a row.
“It was a great start to my career with the white jersey, but it’s time to say goodbye also,” Pogačar said with a smile.
The record is easy to overlook if not forget considering Pogačar’s results this year alone, ranging from victories in the Vuelta a Andalusia, Paris-Nice, Tour of Flanders, Amstel Gold Race, Fleche Wallonne to two national championships titles, two stages and second overall at the Tour, which he entered still recovering from a fractured wrist, and line honours at Il Lombardia.
The Slovenian, flanked by Carera, his partner and Jayco-Alula racer Urska Zigart, and personal photographer Alen Milavec, was a central figure of the two-day exhibition event, and the Tour de France Prudential Singapore Criterium before it.
Reigning Tour champion Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Pogačar’s arch-rival at the Tour, declined an invite to the events Tour organiser ASO oversees. A life-size cardboard cut-out of the Dane was instead placed in the arena.
Saitama also marked the end of one chapter and the start of another for Sagan, who is retiring from the WorldTour to move into mountain bike, with a view of both qualifying Slovakia for the Paris Olympics next year, as well as competing in them.
The seven-time green jersey winner became emotional on the podium, holding back tears as he addressed thousands of fans gathered there the whole day, applauding and moving at times like a rugby maul for autographs and photos with riders.
“I think we’re going to see each other again, maybe in a different discipline. I’m going to try my best to be in Paris for the Olympic…