The Mads Mindset

Crashes, resilience and winning: Mads explains how he fights back from disappointment

Could you sum up 2021 for us, Mads? 


Maybe in his eyes, 2021 was shit. And you can see why he would say that. Mads faced setback after setback, yet always found a way to rebuild and refocus on his next goals. He’s certain of his ability – you don’t win the World Championship title by fluke. Mads has the mentality of a winner, and it’s this that propels him to return to the top-level he knows he has. 

By his own admission, he didn’t start the 2021 season in super condition. Despite claiming the win at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne, Mads was well aware that his form wasn’t typically ‘race-winning’.

“The shape wasn’t good enough for that race, I would say it was more luck than skills that I won that race,” admitted the 2019 World Champion. “But sometimes you need luck to win races.”

A big early-season win stoked the confidence. - Photo by Luc Claessen/Getty Images

After Opening Weekend his shape was clearly improving but at the next major event, E3 Saxobank Classic, Mads had inexplicably bad legs; dropped with over 75km to the finish. “When you’re constantly playing catch up it gets worse and worse and eventually you explode.”

Redemption would have to wait, as the looming covid cloud burst over the Trek-Segafredo classics squad. Mads was unable to defend his Gent-Wevelgem title due to positive coronavirus tests within the Trek-Segafredo bubble. A seven-day quarantine meant Mads had to isolate himself from the Team. After a couple of days riding a home trainer from his hotel room Mads drove home, alone, to Denmark. It was far from an ideal preparation ahead of the Tour of Flanders. He still raced, but didn’t finish. 

Shit happens.

Despite his setbacks during the spring classics period, Mads was brimming with motivation for the remainder of the season. After all, the Queen of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix, had been postponed. Mads relished the delay which gave him another opportunity to win big.

After the Classics I had a good break, then it’s all about crashes.

Bad luck came knocking again at the Critérium du Dauphiné; one of the key preparation races for the Tour de France. On the third day of racing Mads was brought down in a crash. The result: a small but nevertheless significant concussion meaning an immediate abandon. He tried to patch himself up in time for the Tour de France three weeks later. Sadly, there was no escaping the infamous ‘Allez Opi-Omi’ incident at the opening stage of the Tour. 

Fortunately, Mads didn’t suffer any serious consequences in the pile-up. The hardy Dane always wore a smile, but after another, more significant crash on Stage 8 to Grand-Bornand the smile began to slip.

Crash and concussion at the Dauphiné. - Photo by Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images.

“From there on, I think the team should have moved me around in a wheelchair when I wasn’t on the bike,” Mads said. From that moment, the Tour de France became a test of survival. “I didn’t even try to go for results, it was just about finishing. I was thinking about the rest of the season, we still had Roubaix to race.

“I managed to finish. I won’t say I came out of the Tour good, but it was better than stopping half way and then starting to ride again.”

Mads turned the hardship of the Tour into a brace of Nordic wins at the Tours of Denmark and Norway. Winning, and being in good shape again, was a big relief. His win in Denmark was a useful dress rehearsal of the Tour de France which begins in Copenhagen this year, the third stage of which has an identical finish to the one he claimed in Sønderborg. In Norway, after helping young compatriot Mattias Skjelmose during the important GC days, Mads sensed a chance for himself.

“I told the boys in the morning that if they helped me out as we planned, then I would win the stage.”

Reeled in after a solo attack, the ultra-confident Dane still managed to win the bunch sprint in an all-round dominant performance.

I had no idea how I would do it. I just knew I could win it.

A hip injury flared up at the Benelux Tour, a week-long stage race known for hard racing. The Team withdrew Mads to not jeopardize the bigger goals of the World Championships in Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. There was just enough time for a block of last-minute training before Worlds.

“We know how it went. I ended up on the floor after 110km or something”. Another crash – a touch of wheels just ahead left Mads nowhere to go but into the back of two tumbling Italian riders. According to some, Mads caused the crash. However, if you ask him, he wasn’t at fault, and the TV footage seems to back him up.

“What did I learn from that? Never look back and don’t ride behind Italians,” Mads says as he cracks a smile. “I came back to the peloton and then had another crash. In Worlds you don’t get much help to come back, so the race was over.”

So then what does Mads do? Fully focus on the next goal.

The whole Roubaix story is a tough one.

Rain had been falling all weekend in Northern France; exactly what Mads had dreamed of. It was the last chance to redeem his season after all the bad luck. “Everything was where I wanted it to be.”

Deep into the race it was going well, too. Not perfect, but on a day like that perfect would be too much to ask. Mads was in the select group of favorites as they rattled into the infamous Arenberg forest. Further ahead, in the middle of the forest, Luke Rowe had suffered a mechanical issue. As he tried to remount on the slick, muddy cobbles he slipped into the path of the oncoming group. Mads came crashing down hard on the cobbles, winded and in shock. He doesn’t blame Luke, knowing that crashes like these are a part of cycling, but being taken out of a potentially race-winning position stung.

“Shit happens and sadly it was the shit happening to me last year.”

I think it’s the first time I really got a big hit in the balls, mentally.

Mads is normally the type to shrug off disappointment, but he struggled after Roubaix.

“This one was really hard,” Mads said. “I was aiming for more and on that day I really believed I could have won the race. It’s easy to say now, of course, but I really believe that.”

It was also a big blow for the wider Trek-Segafredo family who fiercely believed in Mads.

“It was super hard for me to crash and DNF, but on the other hand when I saw how all the team reacted to it, all the staff and riders, maybe it’s weird but it kind of gave me motivation to be even better next time,” Mads said. “Because I don’t want to see those eyes again. That’s not what I’m racing for, that’s not why I’m pushing all these people to help me. I know I couldn’t change anything there and it wasn’t my fault, but it was a big disappointment.”

“There was a pain, a sadness. It was a big kick in the balls. My dad called me after the race, but I said I couldn’t talk. I had nothing to say. I had no words.”

Mads drove home the morning after Roubaix, still sore from the crash. Then he called his dad. “When we spoke the next day, the first thing I told him was ‘shit happens, I’m going to win next year’. It’s easier said than done, but I need to believe it myself and I need to say it to the people closest to me. I can’t change Roubaix and I can’t cry about it. What I can do is to come back even stronger and be in that situation more and more times.”

Already two days after Roubaix I was ready to train again, in my head. My body wasn’t, but my head told me to start again.

Mads’ mindset is one of his most impressive attributes as an elite athlete. Some might call it arrogance, but great athletes need confidence to succeed. Confidence, along with the drive and desire to win, propels them through hardship. The fact that Mads has already won at the highest levels of the sport gives him assurance that he can do it again.

“I’m 26, I’ve been on the top level, I’ve been world champion, I’ve won classics already,” Mads said. “One shit season is not taking that away. I know I’m working hard, but maybe I can work harder. If I fuck something up, maybe I did something wrong.

“I always believe that what I’m doing is the right thing, and as long as I believe that what I’m doing is the right thing to reach my goals, then I don’t give a fuck what other people are thinking. If I fuck up, I know I fucked up. And then I look at the fuck up I did and try to change it for the next time. But always, at some point, I will end up in a bad situation again at some point. I think we’re only learning by trying and making mistakes.”

And the bad luck?

“The shit happens to everyone. Everyone will have a shit season, it goes up and down for us all. The years you work the hardest are the years maybe you get nothing out of. And that’s just the way it is.”

There’s no doubt Mads has worked incredibly hard to put himself in the position to succeed in 2022. Early season wins in the Etoile de Bessèges and Paris-Nice, as well as 6th place in his surprise Milan-Sanremo debut, gave a clear indication of Mads’ form. Of course, it’s not always a smooth ride on cycling’s rollercoaster.

The E3 Saxobank cobbled classic didn’t exactly go to plan, but tomorrow Mads will return to Gent-Wevelgem and he’s got the fire in his belly to win again. And if it doesn’t work out, that’s okay.  Because he knows sooner or later it will.