Mads Pedersen wins Gent-Wevelgem in a bold sprint!

Mads outdueled the defending the World Champion for a statement win in Belgium

After an incredible team effort and fourth place finish at Milano-Sanremo, it seemed only a matter of time before Mads Pedersen found his winning legs. At Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday, he unearthed that power, sprinting from long range from the front with Mathieu van der Poel on his wheel, and forcing the World Champion to sit up in the closing meters. Pedersen recorded his first win of the Classics season. 

“I had to believe that the sprint was good enough to beat Mathieu,” Pedersen said after the race. “With the shaky showings lately, it was hard to believe, but I had to try the sprint and nothing else. It was a gamble and I took the front because I knew he would be happy, and Deceuninck would be happy, if the bunch came back with [Jasper] Philipsen. So I had to keep the speed high and hope I still had the legs for the sprint.”

Champagne shower! | Photo by Zac Williams

Once again, Lidl-Trek was the most aggressive team on the course. Jonathan Milan, who finished fifth after taking third in the bunch sprint, was the first solo attacker on the day with roughly 80 kilometers to go. The move forced Van der Poel to expend energy driving a select group of breakaway riders to close the gap, allowing Pedersen and Jasper Stuyven to sit behind. Lidl-Trek suffered a setback when Stuyven punctured, but Pedersen sat comfortably while Milan stayed out front for nearly 20 kilometers.

“With Johnny attacking it was the first move from the team to put pressure on the rest of the guys,” Pedersen said. “And luckily for us, Mathieu had to work there to close him. We were up for the challenge to keep going like that. Luckily for me it took a long time for Mathieu and the guys in the breakaway to close Johnny, and it made it in my favor.”

Celebrating across the finish line | Photo by Zac Williams

Pedersen attacked once Milan was reeled in, as the second of three passes on the daunting Kemmelberg climb loomed. He would continue to put pressure on the group, knowing that a high pace was in his team’s favor. He and Van der Poel would eventually find themselves as the only two riders left, dropping the last hanger-on, Laurence Pithie, when Pedersen accelerated on the final pass of the Kemmelberg with under 40 kilometers to go.

Pedersen and Van der Poel began working together to keep the peloton at bay, but Pedersen knew that eventually the entente would end. Van der Poel’s teammate, Jasper Philipsen, is one of the fastest sprinters in the world, and Pedersen knew that Van der Poel had incentive to force Pedersen to work or else let Philipsen come back and contest the sprint.

Mads was a mad man on the climbs all day. | Photo by Zac Williams

With Van der Poel stuck to his wheel in the closing kilometer, Pedersen was only left with hope that his legs would hold out against one of the strongest riders in the world. He opened up his sprint early. Van der Poel went with him and clawed back half a bike length, but no more. Knowing he couldn’t close the gap, Van der Poel sat up, and Pedersen coasted to victory.

“It’s never nice to be up against a guy like [Van der Poel,]” Pedersen said. “He’s the world champion, and he is one of the biggest stars in cycling, and he’s pretty damn good. The only thing I could do was to believe in myself and hope it would be enough, and yeah, luckily it was. It’s a bit of pressure and a bit stressful to have him around when we have to sprint.”

Mads and Mathieu van der Poel locked in battle. | Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The victory confirmed Lidl-Trek’s strength as a team throughout the Classics season. On Friday, Stuyven took second at E3 Saxo Classic and three Lidl-Trek riders placed in the top 10. The effort was a good sign for what came Sunday. 

“After E3 we talked about having numbers and we did a strong team performance,” Pedersen said. “And I think what we left Friday, we picked up again today. So we’re really happy with the team and the classics squad we have and hopefully we can keep building on what we’re doing.”

With the next Monument of the cycling season looming next weekend, the result is especially encouraging. This Lidl-Trek men’s team seems tailor-built for the Classics, but a win on the famed cobble course will be a lot to ask in this age of superstars.

Ready for Flanders. | Photo by Zac Williams

But the team has shown repeatedly that its teamwork will put it in position to win every race it enters. There’s nothing more a rider like Pedersen could ask for.

“New sponsor, new responsibility, more pressure, new signings, everything is getting bigger and bigger, and I think the whole team is living up to what we want and where we want to be,” Pedersen said. “And I think again, that’s what we need to be able to beat these superstars of cycling because, don’t get me wrong, but on our team, we don’t have these superstars. But with the right numbers, we are able to beat them.”