Tadej Pogačar makes his 2023 season debut at the Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior one-day race on Monday, kicking off his fifth season at WorldTour level in the Spanish road and gravel race as he looks to calibrate his early-season form.
A bout of gastroenteritis disrupted Pogačar’s training in January, leading to a change to his race programme. He will not defend his 2022 victory at the UAE Tour later this month, instead opting for a less intense season debut in Spain away from the pressure and expectation to win in the home of his team sponsors.
After the Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior, Pogačar will ride the Vuelta Ciclista Andalucia – Ruta del Sol between February 15-19. His performances in Spain will indicate his form and build-up to the spring Classics.
“I’m a bit nervous like always because it’s the first race for a while. And especially with this kind of parcours, it’s going to be really interesting and hectic, so I’m looking forward to it,” Pogačar said on Sunday afternoon after completing a recon ride of the gravel sections through the olive trees of Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior with his UAE Team Emirates teammates.
Pogačar appeared in an Instagram reel that Cofidis’ Simon Geschke was making on one of the gravel sections during his reconnaissance on Sunday, with the German writing “Got video bombed by some Slovenian fella that will probably make us look like amateurs tomorrow.”
The clip showed one of seven gravel sectors in the 178 kilometre race. The Clásica Jaén Paraíso Interior has 55km of spectacular but demanding dirt roads plus 2300 metres of climbing. In comparison, Strade Bianche includes 63 km of dirt roads spread across 11 different sectors.
Alexey Lutsenko won the inaugural edition in 2022 ahead of Pogcar’s new teammate Tim Wellens. The UAE Team Emirates line-up also includes Matteo Trentin, Alessandro Covi and Marc Hirschi.
Their rivals include Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), Pavel Sivakov and Connor Swift (Ineos Grenadiers) and Simon Clarke (Israel-Premier Tech).
Pogačar last raced in October, when he finished second at the Giro dell’Emilia and then won Tre Valli Varesine and a second consecutive Il Lombardia. He was second at the Tour de France behind Jonas Vingegaard but ended the season as the world’s number one ranked rider and with the determination to return to the Tour and win again.
He was cautious about whether he can immediately win on his season debut.
“The goal is to find good sensations in the race,” he said.
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