At only 24 years old, Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) has already been the main protagonist of a few very special moments in cycling history. The spring of 2018 saw him become the youngest podium finisher on the Ronde van Vlaanderen in the past 40 years. In 2019, autumn was his season, when he fought on rain-soaked roads around Harrogate, Yorkshire, to become the first Danish cyclist to win the Elite Men road race at the UCI Road World Championships. And 2020 brings a new first, as Mads Pedersen couldn’t wear his rainbow stripes in races for several months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Fortunately for the fans, riders and everyone involved in the world of cycling, the competition drought is over. Five months ago, Pedersen was one of the first riders to leave Paris-Nice, answering the call from Danish authorities to “go home as soon as possible” in the wake of the pandemic outbreak. He’s also been among the first riders to return to competition, heading to Spain last week for the Vuelta a Burgos before travelling to the North of the country to participate in the Circuito de Getxo--Memorial Hermanos Otxoa – he finished 34th, after helping set up his Belgian teammate Jasper Stuyven for 5th place.
“Another good day in the hotbox. It’s still a bit weird to be back racing but we do what we can to stay safe”, the Dane said on social media with a picture of himself sporting his rainbow jersey and a blue face mask.
En route to the classics
Now Pedersen has headed east for his first UCI WorldTour event since the return of competitive racing, with the Tour de Pologne (August 5-9). Intensity is set to keep rising for the UCI World Champion, aiming for strong performances at the Tour de France (August 29-September 20) and in the cobbled Classics.
“The Classics will be my main goal, and it’s at the end of the season so I’m really looking forward to it and I’m hoping for a wet Roubaix this year”, Pedersen said after the UCI announced the new racing calendar in May. “Racing is racing, and we will be ready whenever the Classics are on. It’s okay to move the races when the world is in this situation, we will adapt to it and be ready. It will be a cool experience to do all the big races in such a short period. It’s something new for everyone and it’s going to be nice.”
Alongside his teammates Stuyven (winner of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in February) and Edward Theuns (8th in the 2017 Paris-Roubaix) as well as the Men Junior road race UCI World Champion Quinn Simmons, Mads Pedersen wasn't the only Classics expert gathering in the Silesian Stadium in Chorzów to kick off the 77th edition of the Tour de Pologne on Wednesday. Maximilian Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), Rui Costa (UAE Team Emirates), Tim Wellens and John Degenkolb (Lotto Soudal), Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team)… They’re all aiming for Polish success before they go hunting Classics in this unique season.
"I know that I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders"
The first UCI WorldTour stage race since the return of competitions offers five punchy days of racing, with stages 3 and 4 offering more than enough uphill challenges for the punchers to shine while the other stages should favour sprinters.
Pedersen can shine on both terrains, as he proved last year in his first participation in the Tour de Pologne. On stage 3, he was acting as the lead-out man for John Degenkolb (who was riding for Trek-Segafredo at the time and has now joined Lotto Soudal)… his speed and power propelled him to the 3rd place that day, ahead of his German teammate (4th) and only behind Ackermann and Danny van Poppel.
We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the type of showing that would eventually lead Pedersen to victory at the Worlds. Now that he wears the rainbow stripes, all eyes are set on the Danish rider in Poland who made his intentions clear to the press before his return to competition: “I don’t have to show anyone else that I deserve the jersey. I won on that day and I deserved it. People ask me if I feel pressure but to be honest, I know that I have a lot of pressure on my shoulders. To be 100 per cent clear the guy who wants to show off this jersey the most and his respect for the jersey, is me. I want to show how beautiful it is, I want to honour it.”