The young Dane is a surprise winner of the elite men's road title in Yorkshire.
Mads Pedersen finished second to Mathieu van der Poel in the Junior world championships in 2013. And six years later in the 2019 World Championships in Harrogate, Yorkshire the two would meet again, fighting for another world title, but under very different circumstances.
All the talk ahead of the elite men’s race was about pre-race favorite van der Poel. And Pedersen? He wasn’t even the leader for Denmark, who had more experienced and decorated riders in Michael Valgren and Jakob Fuglsang.
But it was van der Poel who cracked with just over 12 kilometers remaining, and Mads Pedersen – not even on the radar for victory – who would ride on to claim the biggest achievement of his life: World Champion at the tender age of 23 in a rain-soaked, epic race in Yorkshire where the only the hardiest survived.
It's unbelievable. I didn't expect this when we started this morning. It was an unbelievable day.
“It’s unbelievable. I didn’t expect this when we started this morning. It was an unbelievable day,” said Pedersen, at a loss for words for what he had just done.
In a three-up sprint for the coveted rainbow stripes, it wasn’t even close. At the end of a cold, wet and grueling 262 kilometers, Pedersen showed he was the strongest.
When it was looking likely the breakaway that formed on the final laps would stick, everyone thought the race was certainly van der Poel’s. And when the Dutchman suddenly cracked, then everyone pointed at Italian Matteo Trentin, another favorite. No one really considered the young Dane. But in a classics-style World Championships, Pedersen showed his incredible talent again – he finished second in the Tour of Flanders in 2018, after-all.
“The team plan was to get me out in the early final (laps) and then (teammates) Valgren and Fuglsang would come from behind. But in the end, they didn’t follow van der Poel and Trentin when they came to my group. From there on it was just survive, survive, survive and then hope for the best in the sprint,” explained Pedersen.
Coming into the final lap, five men led the race: van der Poel, Pedersen, Trentin, Stefan Küng of Switzerland, and Gianni Moscon, who gave Italy what seemed to be an advantage. When van der Poel shockingly exploded at the start of the final circuit and Moscon – who earlier had been dropped and fought back to the group – lost grip for good on the climb, it was down to the trio to fight out the medals.
Pedersen was assured a medal, but everyone thought Trentin would win the three-up sprint.
After six and a half hours in atrocious conditions, with Pedersen leading out the sprint, Trentin jumped first and opened over a bike length lead.
But the young Dane had the final say.
“I just hoped that when I saw the finish line, all the pain would be gone, and I could do a good sprint. It’s six and a half hours on the bike so everyone is on the limit and so anything could happen in that sprint,” said Pedersen.
“You had to be focused all day and stay in the front all the time. But it’s one of the last races of the season, so it’s all about keeping that focus for six and a half hours and don’t have any bad luck and hope for the best. This is every rider’s dream to wear this jersey – for me to do it now? It’s unbelievable.”
Pedersen struggled in the early part of the 2019 season, but his form and confidence have grown in the last month. One week ago, Pedersen finally won his first race of the season, the Grand Prix d’Isbergues.
And on a soggy Sunday in Harrogate, he won his second.