The young Dane's performance a revelation of the esteemed Monument
In his first Tour of Flanders, Mads Pedersen, 22, turned heads with a surprising second-place finish in arguably the hardest one-day race on the calendar – more than he and many expected, but a testament to his well-known capacity.
When Pedersen followed a late attack with some 45 kilometers to race, joining two others out front, he was playing out the team’s plan, while Jasper Stuyven remained with the race favorites group that numbered around 28 riders.
“We have two leaders on the team (Degenkolb and Stuyven), and the role was to play me out a little bit early to put pressure on the other teams, but to come so far? I didn’t expect that,” said Pedersen. “The team tactic was for me to follow the early attacks at the end, and I did that, but for it to stick…it was unexpected that I held it to the finish.”
While the trio out front gained a lead of 30 seconds, the first move from the big hitters came on the Taaienberg when Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) attacked, drawing out a select group of five, including a strong Stuyven. But it was short-lived as the group came back together.
It was the next attack by Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida), followed by Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), that turned into the winning move. A powerful Terpstra proved too much for the Italian, who lost his wheel, and the Dutchman never looked back. Terpstra caught and passed the leading trio the final time up the Kwaremont.
“I didn’t expect to almost follow Niki when he came like a motorbike and passed us on the Kwaremont,” explained Pedersen, who was the only one of the breakaway to follow Terpstra.“I really tried to come back to him, but it was too much. I was really on the limit from there to the finish.”
It was an amazing performance by Mads. I think if they haven't seen him as a threat yet, now they will.
With 13 flat kilometers remaining after the Kwaremont-Paterberg climbs, it turned into a game of pursuit to the finish: Terpstra followed by Pedersen followed by the group with Jasper Stuyven. While Terpstra had a significant gap, it was touch and go if Pedersen would hold off the chasing group.
But the young Dane dug deep and crossed the line 12 seconds after Terpstra, and 5 seconds in front of Philippe Gilbert (Quick-Step Floors), an incredible and well-deserved second place.
I just went full gas; I was fighting to try come back to Terpstra and to keep the group behind me away. I wasn't thinking; I was just pushing the pedals. I really followed the tactics today, and in the end, I survived. I was afraid of the climbs in the final, and actually, I thought that Jasper's group would come back at some point.
“For sure I am happy, I didn’t expect this,” Pedersen continued. “This is one of the biggest races you can do, and the biggest for a guy like me, so this means a lot. It was long and super hard: always when you do 260kms, it’s a race where you have to survive no matter how good you are. I am still young, this was good, but I still need some experience, so maybe in a few years I can be here again. I need time to grow even more. It was a good way to start, but there’s more to come I hope.”
Jasper Stuyven added to the team’s excellent performance, finishing in seventh place. He has been consistent in the northern classics so far with top ten finishes in each race, but his breakthrough result is still to come, leaving him wanting more.
“It was an amazing performance by Mads,” said Stuyven. “I think if they haven’t seen him as a threat yet, now they will. The team did an amazing job, we were always there in the crucial points we had pointed out in the pre-race meeting, my legs were good, and on the Taaienberg I was there with the five first guys, and then you think, ‘okay, I am here with the strongest.’ I didn’t have to pull with Mads in front, so I was hoping to go for the last podium spot. So I am little disappointed that I am always there, but again I finished between 5 and 10.”
Team director Dirk Demol was all smiles after the race and heaped praise on the team’s performance:
“The confidence was there; we had seen in the last week that the group was coming together. All seven did a great job and having Mads second on the podium in the Tour of Flanders is just fantastic! And Jasper confirmed again with another top 10 – his 6th time in the top 10 in the 6 WorldTour one-day races in the north. Chapeau!”
“Maybe I am a little too optimistic, but I will say it anyway: with the team we have, our best chances are in Paris-Roubaix. I have told them straight away, great performance today, I am super happy, but one thing is clear: we have to keep our focus one week longer, keep concentrated. Yes, we have a podium spot in Flanders, but next Sunday we have to fight again and go for it, and finish one step higher.”