Mads Pedersen takes third in Paris-Roubaix with a courageous effort

Maybe no one worked harder than Mads Pedersen on a Sunday in Hell

Mads Pedersen showed off the grit the guts that have been his signature this season and took third at Paris-Roubaix, his best ever finish at the Hell of the North. He snagged the podium that barely eluded him 2023, and completed a classics campaign that was perhaps only bettered by the riders who edged him out on Sunday.

Mathieu van der Poel would not be denied. He went solo with roughly 59 kilometers and 12 cobbled sectors to go, and would ultimately win by three minutes over Pedersen and second-place Jasper Philipsen. If anyone was going to catch him, it was Pedersen, who quickly struck up a chase that only a select group of riders could follow. For the rest of the race, Pedersen was joined primarily by Philipsen, fourth-place Nils Politt, and fifth-place Stefan Küng.

“It was a good race,” Pedersen said. “I believe Mathieu is out of the league, he was basically riding his own race. And then with Jasper in the wheel into the last 15k, he’s hard to beat in a normal sprint, and then in a sprint where he can sit a bit in the wheel for quite some time, it was mission impossible almost. So just to be on the podium, I’m super happy to take another step up.”

The final sprint inside the Roubaix velodrome. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

Pedersen did the lion’s share of the work, with Philipsen — both the group’s best sprinter, and having his teammate solo up the road — lacking any motivation to ride up front. With 12 kilometers to go, Philipsen briefly attempted to go solo, but Pedersen reeled him back while dropping Küng. 

Pedersen led the trio into the Roubaix Velodrome, with Politt on his wheel and Philipsen in slingshot position in third. Politt opened the sprint. Pedersen mirrored the move. And Philipsen made his way around their right shoulders for second as Pedersen edged out Politt by a bike length.

After the race, Pedersen gave all credit to Van der Poel for giving an all-time great performance in the win. Still, Lidl-Trek could have had a better chance at challenging the Dutchman if not for some poor luck.

Mads finished third for his best ever Paris-Roubaix result. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

Pedersen suffered a puncture with roughly 90 kilometers to go, and Mathias Vacek had to give a big effort to help bring Pedersen back to the group. Jonathan Milan was also forced to abandon the race due to a crash. The Italian rider has had an excellent debut season with Lidl-Trek, and could have been a helpful lieutenant for Pedersen in the closing kilometers, not to mention another big sprinter to challenge Philipsen. Lidl-Trek was also missing Jasper Stuyven and Alex Kirsch, two of the team’s strongest classics specialists, due to a crash at Dwars door Vlaanderen.

“We had to spend a few bullets to come back,” Pedersen said. “But on the other hand, if you take the whole race, the puncture came in a good moment. We managed to come back. Vacek was there straight away to close the gap. So shit happens. It’s almost impossible not to have a puncture in this race. So I’m happy that I made it back and I could be on the podium.

“I had to spend my teammates chasing and they did an incredible job. And the other teams were with numbers, and it was a bit difficult to cover everything. But I think in the end I managed quite OK.”

Mads and Mathieu van der Poel side by side. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

Pedersen had dreams of winning Paris-Roubaix. But outnumbered by the Alpecin-Deceuninck duo and forced to exhaust himself even to be in podium contention, he can leave the Roubaix showers head held high about an unbelievable effort at cycling’s most fabled one-day race.

One day earlier, Pedersen’s Lidl-Trek teammate Elisa Balsamo took second place at Paris-Roubaix Femmes, marking the third time in four editions of the race that Lidl-Trek has stood on the podium (Lizzie Deignan won in 2021, and Elisa Longo Borghini won in 2022). The squad displayed its top-to-bottom strength this weekend, creating lots of optimism for the future of its young new title sponsorship era. 

“I think we are happy with how everything is going with the women’s team, with our team, with the Devo team. It’s nice how Lidl-Trek is growing, and to see the talents also winning the race, we know we have a good future ahead of us.”

Mads leading the chase. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

More from Mads Pedersen

On how to beat Mathieu Van der Poel: “I don’t know, man. Like this guy is just a superstar in cycling, and he’s just better than the rest of us. But clearly not as good as him.”

On the reaction from the peloton when Van der Poel attacked: “I think when Mathieu went, everyone wanted to follow him. But clearly we weren’t able to do that. So it is what it is. He was so strong today, and he was almost playing with us.

“[I tried] to get in the wheel and it was not possible. And after that, [I tried] to organize a group who will try to get him back. And then at one point, he was just gaining time, so then we were racing for second.

“Everyone is committed and going flat out. Maybe you have a puncture or whatever, so you never know, the race is not over when he leaves. But today it was.”

At the finish line. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

On tactics in the closing kilometers: “We were still going all out. Philipsen went on the sector after Carrefour, and there Küng got dropped, so we were only three guys left. And from there, Jasper also wanted to pull. But at that moment, I also knew that Jasper is a tough tough guy to beat, and he also had a few kilometers in the wheel where we were pulling. So [we] kind of settled in to sprint for third. But I also knew that Nils, he was on the limit, but so was I. But I trusted my sprint enough to know that it was possible to beat Nils.”

On sprinting against Jasper Philipsen: “For me it’s hard to beat Jasper in a normal race in a sprint, so magic should happen if I should beat him in a sprint like this today. So I’m happy.”

A brilliant performer. | Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

On losing Jonathan Milan: “I’m pretty sure it would have changed a lot. It would have been nice to be one more guy deeper into the final. So when Johnny, he crashed early in the race, it was really shit for us. And of course then it was a pain in the ass. But we can’t change it. I haven’t talked with him yet. I just hope he’s okay.”

On what he’s going to do now: “Tonight, we’re gonna celebrate a good classics season with the team. And tomorrow it’s time to go home. I didn’t see my wife a lot since January. So it’s time to see my family and have a bit of rest.

“And then the next race will be different.”

Until next year, Roubaix. | Photo: Sean Hardy

Reaction from DS Grégory Rast

On his evaluation of the race: “We had basically only Mads left for the final, so this was the biggest challenge for us. And I think when the race opened, Mads also had a flat tire and needed to chase back. We had a little bit of bad luck with flat tires today, and that there were only two guys with Mads, but these two guys did great — Edward Theuns and Mathias Vacek. 

“But of course, they played with us. They always had one guy there when we needed to chase. The others, they don’t want to really chase. When Mads had a flat tire, I think Vacek brought him back very, very strong. But I think in the end, Mads, he missed a little bit when Mathieu was going from the efforts he needed to do before. And this was the moment we lost the race. But I think he did an unbelievable race to finish on the podium.”