ANALYSIS: What must Tadej Pogacar do to catch up with cannibal Eddy Merckx?

Tadej Pogacar's recent victory in the Giro d'Italia 2024 has only confirmed that the Slovenian is currently the best cyclist in the world, and for all that he has achieved, one of the best in history. In fact, the UAE Team Emirates star is already being compared to the greatest of all time, Eddy Merckx.

So, What must Tadej Pogacar do to catch up with cannibal Eddy Merckx? This is the question posed by our colleagues at Ciclismoaldia. Pogacar won the 2024 edition of the Corsa Rosa, where he was making his debut, with a 10-minute lead over second overall, Daniel Martinez. In addition, he also took the mountains classification and six stage wins in a race where he wore the Maglia Rosa following his stage 2 win, all the way to the finish in Rome. But now that the comparisons have begun to be taken seriously, will Pogacar be able to catch up with Merckx, is there any factor that could stand in the way of that goal, and how close is he really to catching the legendary Belgian rider, at least as far as his record is concerned?

The main handicap when trying to catch up with Merckx.

Eddy Merckx managed to achieve 276 victories during his career because he was a rider capable of winning even on the Champs Elysees. He was a very good sprinter and that's why, for example, he was very good at winning a Milano-Sanremo (he won 7 in total) which it seems that Tadej Pogacar will have a hard time winning because of his characteristics on the bike.

In addition, Merckx was also an animal in individual time trials. Of his 276 victories, 67 came in the time trials, which is crazy. Meanwhile, `Pogacar, without being a specialist, can perform outstandingly well in time trials, but the difference with the Belgian is big, as the Slovenian has 6 in his personal account right now. That's why Pogacar, with 77 total wins since 2019, looks like he'll have a tough time. What the Slovenian can do is focus on accumulating as many wins as possible in races like Il Lombardia, where he has proven he is the best by far having won the last three editions (2021, 2022 and 2023). But can it be enough in this way? It's time to compare the palmarès of both riders.

Pogacar and Merckx are two of the biggest winners in their respective generations

A monstrosity that seeks to equal a greater monstrosity.

To begin with, we review Eddy Merckx's achievements between 1966 and 1977:

  • The Belgian accumulates, as already mentioned, 276 victories: 45 wins in grand tour stages, 79 in one-day races and 67 in time trials. A total cyclist.
  • He has 11 Grand Tours, having won 5 times the Tour de France, 5 times the Giro d'Italia and 1 time the Vuelta a España. This represents a winning percentage of 68% in the grand tours he participated in during his career.
  • He has accumulated 75% of podiums in the total number of grand tours he has competed in.
  • He has 51 victories in classics, including the 19 Monuments we will see below.
  • In terms of Monuments, Merckx won 19 times: the 7 Milano-Sanremo already mentioned, 5 times the Liège-Bastogne-Liège, 3 times the Paris-Roubaix, 2 times the Tour of Flanders and 2 times Il Lombardia. All this accounted for 37% of his victories out of his total participations.

On the other hand, and before mentioning how far Pogacar still has to go to catch up with Merckx, we review the Slovenian's track record so far:

  • 77 victories in his career: 15 in grand tour stages (20 counting time trials), 17 in one-day races and 6 in time trials.
  • 3 Grand Tour victories: 2 times winner of the Tour de France (2020 and 2021) and 1 time winner of the Giro d'Italia (2024).
  • Victory percentage of 50% in grand tours (3 out of 6) after finishing 3rd in the 2019 Vuelta a España, and 2nd in both 2022 and 2023 in the Tour de France.
  • He has accumulated 100% of podiums in the total number of grand tours he has competed in.
  • 14 victories in classics, including the 6 Monuments that we will see below.
  • 6 victories in Monuments: 3 times winner of Il Lombardia, 2 times winner of the Liège-Bastogne-Liège and 1 time winner of the Tour of Flanders. This means 43% of victories in the Monuments he has contested so far.

This is what Pogacar must achieve to equal Merckx.

Having already gone over the track record of each, and also explained that it will be very difficult for Pogacar to reach Merckx's 276 victories because of the ease with which the Belgian also competed for wins in peloton sprints and time trials, this is what the Slovenian needs to match the greatest cyclist of all time:

  • 8 grand tour victories. Now that he has seen that he can dominate the Giro d'Italia, Tadej Pogacar can open himself up to a new scenario where he doesn't have to focus solely on the Tour de France every season. In the meantime, the door is still open to a return to a Vuelta a España where he hasn't raced since his debut there in 2019.
  • 13 victories in Monuments. As I have already pointed out, here the Slovenian has a huge handicap because those 7 Milano-Sanremo of Eddy Merckx weigh a lot. However, based on what he can do in Liège and Lombardy above all, since they are the ones that best suit him, it can't be said that it's impossible to catch him.
  • 199 victories. This does seem unattainable because of what I have repeated on several occasions. After all, it is not for nothing that Eddy Merckx is considered the best cyclist in history. Already the simple fact that Tadej Pogacar is compared to him is of tremendous merit. But the fact of matching him, not in terms of talent, but in terms of numbers, seems a really complicated task.

Place comments



More comments

You are currently seeing only the comments you are notified about, if you want to see all comments from this post, click the button below.

Show all comments