Mads Pedersen created a huge surprise at the UCI 2019 Road World Championships in Yorkshire as he became the first ever Danish UCI Men Elite Road Race World Champion, beating Italy’s Matteo Trentin and Switzerland’s time trialist Stefan Küng in a three-man sprint after the Swiss rider had initiated an eventful finale. At 23, the same age as Spain’s Óscar Freire was in his 1999 victory in Verona – no younger rider has won the supreme title since – the Dane confirmed 2019 as the season of rejuvenation for men’s pro cycling.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Pedersen. “I surely didn’t expect this when we started this morning. It was an unbelievable day. It’s every rider’s dream to wear this jersey. The plan was to get me out in the early final laps and then [Jakob] Fuglsang and others would come from behind. But in the end, they didn’t follow Van der Poel and Trentin when they came to my group. Then it was just survive, survive, survive and then hope for the best in the sprint.
“I just hoped that when I saw the finish line all the pain would be gone and I could do a good sprint. It was six and a half hours on the bike, and everyone was on the limit. Anything could happen in that sprint. It was all about being focused the whole day and staying in front, not having any bad luck and hoping for the best.”
The Elite Men’s road race was re-routed due to heavy rain across the northern section of the course in Yorkshire and even though the distance was reduced it didn’t diminish the motivation of the top riders. La Vuelta a España overall winner Primož Roglič (SLO) was first in action, provoking the formation of an 11-man breakaway along with the two Giro d’Italia overall winners from South America: Nairo Quintana and Richard Carapaz (both COL), as well as his fellow Slovenian Jan Polanc, Magnus Cort (DEN), Michael Vakoc (CZE), Silvan Dillier (SUI), Maciej Bodnar (POL), Jonas Koch (GER), Hugo Houle (CAN) and Alex Howes (USA).
The race came together again on its first pass of the finishing circuit in Harrogate. It was controlled by France and The Netherlands, until Lawson Craddock (USA) and Küng attacked with 65km to go with the peloton already deprived of pre-race favourite Philippe Gilbert (BEL) who crashed, and defending UCI World Champion Alejandro Valverde (SPA). 45km before the end, Pedersen bridged the gap to Küng as Craddock was distanced. Mike Teunissen (NED) and Gianni Moscon (ITA) were first to reach Küng and Pedersen at the front. With two laps remaining, five riders seized command of the race: Küng, Pedersen, Moscon, his countryman Trentin and hot favourite Mathieu van der Poel (NED) who both appeared as the two most serious contenders as it looked like the Slovakian and French superstars Peter Sagan and Julian Alaphilippe wouldn’t make up the deficit in the final 20km.
With two riders out of five escapees, Italy was in an ideal situation as Moscon sacrificed himself for Trentin. The first shock came from Van der Poel’s hungerflat with 12.5km to go. Then Küng accelerated up the last hill 5.5km before the end to reduce the contenders to a trio in which Trentin, on paper, was the fastest – but in a short sprint, Pedersen had the legs to emerge as the youngest UCI Men Elite Road Race World Champion since Freire 20 years ago.
Riding in the UCI WorldTour for Trek-Segafredo, Pedersen, who came second to Niki Terpstra in the Ronde van Vlaanderen last year, won his first race of 2019 with the Grand Prix d'Isbergues - Pas de Calais in northern France one week before receiving the rainbow jersey, just like France’s Benoît Cosnefroy had done two years ago when he claimed the title in the Under 23 category in Bergen. He was clearly on good form albeit not a favourite but the rainy conditions paved the way for an unexpected outcome.