San Millan, a physiologist currently based at the University of Colorado's School of Medicine who joined the team in 2018, described how he knew as soon as he met the young Slovenian he was destined for success due to his combination of attributes.
"I met him at the end of 2018; my arrival in the team [UAE-Team Emirates] coincides with his signing for 2019,” San Millan said in an interview with Eurosport. "“At that moment I realized what he was, which is exactly what you see of him on television: a boy with physiological parameters impressively coupled with mental qualities reminiscent of [Miguel] Indurain.”
Indurain, a legendary Spanish cyclist, won the Tour de France five years in a row from 1991-95 and is the last to win five titles.
Pogačar's toughness and determination was on full display at the Tour, as he won three stages and performed at a consistently high level throughout the race, highlighted by his incredible effort to close a 57 second gap on leader Primož Roglič in the stage 20 time trial to seal a maiden Grand Tour victory after finishing third at the Vuelta a España a year before.
And San Millan, whose work focuses on testing athletes' capacity for recovery and resilience to fatigue by analysing their mitochondrial function and their use of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, saw in the 21-year-old's blood that Pogačar already had a rare level of fitness that meant there was no doubt from his team that he could already compete with the best at the toughest races in world cycling.
“In those [metabolic] measurements Tadej, compared to already very good cyclists, is on another level,” San Millan said. “For this reason, we were not afraid to take him to La Vuelta so young, because with that fantastic capacity for recovery there was no risk of melting him.”
The perfect combination of the mental and physical, along with San Millan's scientific understanding of how his body operated, ensured Pogačar was able to pull off his amazing comeback in the time trial to take the yellow jersey from Roglič.
“In a grand tour final time trial, it matters a lot that you have arrived in full form, and on your recovery capacity – and in those Tadej is outstanding,” San Millan said. “We did not need a power meter on either of the two bikes. We told him full throttle, because he knows how to calculate well going full throttle for an hour either on the climbing bike or on the normal bike, which is around 415 watts for his 65 kilograms."