Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) may have won a rainbow jersey in 2019, but in many ways, it was always going to take more results to establish him as a top-tier star following that surprise victory at Worlds in Yorkshire.
Fortunately for the 25-year-old Dane, he followed up his 2019 campaign with a fine 2020, taking his first, second, and third career WorldTour victories – including his first big Classics win at Gent-Wevelgem – and also showing off some stunning speed at the Tour de France, where he finished second in two bunch sprints.
In a virtual press conference from Trek-Segafredo’s training camp this week, Pedersen said that his 2020 season represented another step forward, both on the physical side and the mental side. While he only just turned 25 in December, and he’s certainly still working to get better, at this point, Pedersen is now ready to focus more on winning than on trying to hit this or that developmental goal.
“I know I’m young but also I don’t want to play the card any more that I have to improve to be in the game of racing and so on,” Pedersen said. “I think now it’s time to show that I’m on the level every time I’m racing.”
That perspective has been earned not only from Pedersen’s strong results over the past two seasons, but also from the unconventional circumstances that 2020 presented. A season full of last-minute race cancellations left Pedersen thinking about things a little bit differently as he gears up for 2021, and beyond.
“I learned a lot during the corona lockdown. Last year, you never knew which race would be the last one,” Pedersen said. “They could close down everything from one day to the other, so I learned that all the races I’m doing could be the last one. This mentality, I will bring in for this season, for the rest of my career, that every race could be the last one.”
As he looks ahead to the coming season, Pedersen is laser-focused on achieving more one-day success, with the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, and Worlds in Flanders as big targets. In all three races, he’s likely to face competition from at least two other riders within one year of his age, the same two riders favored by many to win the Gent-Wevelgem title he ultimately took last season.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Pedersen was asked more than once how he saw himself in comparison to the likes of Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma). He strategically avoided making any sweeping proclamations, instead striking a balance between confidence and pragmatism without coming off as cocky.
“I can’t beat them every time. They can’t win every time. But I know I can beat them, and that’s enough for me,” Pedersen said.
A further hint at his confidence came when he was asked about Van der Poel and Van Aert battling against each other this ‘cross season, and whether he was hoping their battles might take their toll ahead of the road season.
Pedersen would rather face his competitors at their best.
“I don’t hope they’re burning out,” he said. “I hope they enjoy their time in cyclocross, and then I hope they are at 100 percent best level when we do Flanders and those Classics, because they are not unbeatable.”
Unlike some of his rivals, Pedersen finds himself as one of two main options for the Classics in his team, and in this week’s press conference, he emphasized his close relationship with his teammate Jasper Stuyven. The 28-year-old Belgian won the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad last year, meaning that Trek won half of the WorldTour-level Cobbled Classics last year (there were only four, of course, on the reduced calendar).
“It makes us and the team stronger to have two cards to play,” Pedersen said. “This is a pair of kings, and that’s not a bad hand to have in a poker game. It’s better sometimes to be two strong guys than only one.”
For 2021, Pedersen said that the team is continuing to plan around putting both riders into position to win, and eyeing more consistency in race finales.
“We already had two strong guys last year for the Classics but we talked about it this year that it’s about time to make it a standard for us to be there together in the finals every time,” Pedersen said. “That’s the most important part now, to be on the high level very time together, because as we’ve said so many times before, we’re pretty sure we’re stronger together than apart. We still believe it. But first, we have to be there together.”
Pedersen was clear that the Classics and Worlds are his main goal for 2021, but there are, of course, other big races on the horizon. He’s hungry for success in the Tour de France as well, and his strong showing at last year’s race proved that he can at least be in the mix in the Grand Tour sprints with some of the world’s best, surprising even himself.
“I always knew I could do good sprints but normally it’s in smaller groups where we’ve been doing some crazy racing before. So I knew the sprint was good but I didn’t expect it to be that good,” he said. “I’m still not a top sprinter, with the best bunch, because Sam Bennett is still beating me 10 of 10 times if we have to go face to face. But I believe I can do some good sprints and I believe I can win sprints. Last season was a good season for the sprints. I continue working on the sprints and hopefully I’ll improve a bit in the sprints.”
For the short team, at least, Pedersen emphasized that he’s not planning to overhaul his approach to become the kind of rider who can consistently win bunch kicks at the Tour.
“I still have some kind of love for the Classics and the cobblestones. I think if you go full on the sprinting part, I will miss a lot on the cobbles part. I’m not ready to give that up yet.” he said.
“I still love the Classics way more than sprinting. So I still want to have my absolutely best sprinters, but still be good at the Classics. So I can do a sprint like at Gent. That’s the most important thing for me right now. Maybe if we talk in five years, I’ve had enough of the Classics and want to try to be a sprinter, but it’s not that easy to move from one kind of rider to another kind of rider.”
Looking further into the future, however, Pedersen has some clear goals for the Tour de France, with a few other ambitions at least in the back of his mind.
In 2022, the race is set to start in Denmark.
“I will do absolutely the maximum next year to try to get the yellow jersey in Copenhagen,” Pedersen said. “The second stage we are passing like 200 meters from my house. And my it would be a great story to say I passed by in the biggest bike race in the world in the leader’s jersey down there.”
And beyond that, who knows? Having proven to the peloton and himself in 2020 that he can at least be in the mix in the sprints at the Tour, Pedersen said he wouldn’t rule out perhaps one day going for the green jersey.
“Before last year I didn’t even think about that but now I see the possibility of doing it. I wouldn’t say no,” he said. “I can’t promise I would do it but also I can’t tell you I would never do it. Of course one day, if the Tour is perfect for it and it fits me quite well, yeah, why not? I would try to do it. It would be nice to have a green jersey on the wall when you stop cycling.”
However things play out over the next few seasons, at the moment, Pedersen is focused on building towards his big early season goals, and we won’t have long to wait before he has a chance to gauge his form in his first race start of the season. Pedersen plans to get his 2021 campaign underway early next month at the Etoile de Bessèges, before he heads to the Volta ao Algarve and then dives into racing on the pavé at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, now less than a month and a half away.