Dropping football could be the best decision Mattias Skjelmose ever made

Our youngest Dane talks about becoming a professional cyclist

Leaving football for cycling seems to be a ubiquitous theme amongst young European neo-pros. “My journey to cycling all started with me being really shit at football,” admits Mattias Skjelmose.

It reminds us of Mattias’ compatriot, a certain Mr. Pedersen, who also quit the beautiful sport because ‘he hated losing.’  It’s a topic we can all relate to –  we all want to be winners.

“My parents told me it was fine if I didn’t want to play football, but I should choose another sport,” he adds.

With a road bike tucked away at home, Mattias dusted it off and gave it a chance in his native city Copenhagen. Of course it was a good match. Few activities compare to the simple joy and freedom offered by a bicycle.

In his first Junior year, at age 16, Mattias finished 24th in Paris-Roubaix Juniors, an event previously won by Jasper Stuyven and Mads Pedersen. A year later, stronger and armed with more experience, Mattias improved his result significantly, finishing on the podium in 3rd place.

Despite an adeptness for speeding over cobbles, the young Dane sees himself more as a General Classification rider. Mattias possesses a strong ability in the time trial and pedaling fast uphill, a valuable skillset that has netted him a handful of top results across Europe through his Junior and Under-23 seasons. Now that he has entered the upper echelon of pro cycling, his has ambitions to perform at the highest level in future Grand Tours.

In the short term, Mattias is keen to make the most of his time around his knowledgeable teammates. “I already felt in [Etoile de] Bessèges that I have a lot to learn, so firstly, I would like to absorb as much experience and learning as I can. I’d also like to ride a Grand Tour in my second season,” explains the 20-year-old.

“Racing at Bessèges at the beginning of February was the earliest start I ever had, but at the end, I think it’s working out well to have those five race days in the legs. I really felt like I improved every day out there.”

For any young rider to improve, they need great teachers, and mentors were abundant at Mattias’ professional debut. Racing with recognized leaders like Vincenzo Nibali, Bauke Mollema and Mads Pedersen was something he had dreamed about for years.

“All of them are really nice guys and great leaders. They are good at communicating what they need, which makes it a lot easier to do the work for them. It’s also special to race with guys that you’ve been idolizing for years.”

However, Mattias points out, it’s teammate Alex Kirsch who has made the biggest impression. “He was my roommate, and he was road captain on the team. Alex taught me a lot of tricks about how to be in the peloton and riding at the front while expending as little energy as possible. I really admire the work he does, it’s really special and I learned a lot from him.”

Mattias is a select breed of cyclists who enjoy time trialing, a solitary discipline that pits riders against the clock as they cover a set distance. Raw power, body position and cutting-edge technology marry as the riders try to cheat the wind and arrive in the fastest time.

“I’m always talking about different tires, improving aerodynamics, nutrition and different training approaches. I like the technical side of the sport. Maybe that’s why I have an interest in Formula 1 with all the small details that come with it,” rationalizes the young professional.

When the weather is shit, I’m thinking of the 90% of competitors who would have stayed at home or the other 9% who would cut the ride short. That’s what motivates me to be the last 1% who completes the full training - and then some more.

While many pro riders base themselves in locations with warmer climes, it begs the question: why stay in a country with harsh weather and few mountains? “I grew up here, all my friends live nearby, and I just like the atmosphere. Generally, I like to be close to my family; that’s the most important part of it,” answers Mattias.

Cycling is a demanding sport; it’s why we love it so much. You don’t look outside the team bus window and decide you’re not racing because it’s zero degrees (Celsius) and raining. “Training through winter in minus degrees and rain prepares you for quite a lot of things, and I think it’s good. It toughens you a bit,” remarks Skjelmose. Denmark’s first elite men’s world championship title is testament to that.

“When the weather is shit, I’m thinking of the 90% of competitors who would have stayed at home or the other 9% who would cut the ride short. That’s what motivates me to be the last 1% who completes the full training – and then some more.”

With some of cycling’s best role models at his disposal, untapped talent and a strong work ethic, Mattias Skjelmose will be a rider to watch in the next years.