Padun winning the final stage of the Dauphiné.

Who is the Dauphiné’s breakout star, Mark Padun?

After an average season or two, Mark Padun won back-to-back stages of the Dauphiné. But he's hardly come from nowhere.

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While Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) was riding his way to overall victory at the Critérium du Dauphiné over the weekend, another man was doing his best to pull the spotlight towards himself.

On Saturday’s queen stage, 24-year-old Ukrainian Mark Padun (Bahrain-Victorious) followed Porte’s attack from a reduced GC group with 8 km to go before punching away and riding solo to his first victory at WorldTour level.

It was a mightily impressive raid from a rider who’d started the day more than half an hour down on GC.

The following day, Padun would have been forgiven for having a quieter day on the bike. Instead, he fought to get in the breakaway, fought for KOM points, and then sailed clear on the final climb with around 27 km to go. With his slightly awkward style on the bike, the Ukrainian stayed clear of his breakaway companions, sailed up and over the last big climb, then soloed up to the finish in Les Gets with a winning margin of more than 90 seconds. He had two stage wins in two days.

So who is Mark Padun? And did these impressive results really come out of the blue?

Padun was born in July 1996 in the city of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. As the Instagram post above shows, he’s been riding bikes in earnest since at least 2009. But it was in 2015 that he started to show real promise on the world stage.

After finishing ninth at the GP Capodarco, an infamously tough Italian one-dayer for U23 riders, Padun took a stage win at the three-day Italian UCI 2.2 event, the Giro della Regione Friuli Venezia Giulia.

He won solo that day, on an uphill finish, ahead of current Deceuninck-QuickStep pro, Fausto Masnada. Also in the bunch the day, the likes of Giulio Ciccone (now Trek-Segafredo) and Felix Grossschartner (now Bora-Hansgrohe).

Padun moved to Italy and spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with local team Colpack. He didn’t do too many UCI-level races in his first year with the team, but he did claim the Ukrainian U23 time trial title, adding to his junior national title from a couple years earlier.

2016 also saw Padun take second at the Giro del Medio Brenta one-day race in Italy (behind Masnada), before his biggest result yet: a stage win at one of the toughest U23 stage races on the calendar, the Giro della Valle d’Aosta Mont Blanc. Again, Padun won solo on an uphill finish, from a peloton that included the likes of Enric Mas, Tobias Foss, Sergio Higuita, Max Schachmann and Aleksandr Vlasov. He was showing himself to be one of the best climbers in the U23 ranks.

Padun took second on another uphill finish later in the race, ultimately winning the KOM prize and finishing third overall.

Padun’s 2017 was perhaps even better. He won his first UCI race of the year, the Trofeo Piva – yet another hard and hilly Italian one-dayer for U23s (see image above). He then finished second at the Fleche du Sud stage race in Luxembourg before ultimately being given the overall title when the original winner, Croatian Matija Kvasina, was stripped of that and a bevy of other results after testing positive for an experimental drug during the race.

At the 2017 Baby Giro Padun continued to show that he was one of the best U23s in the world, winning stage 3 from a group of six that also included five other current WorldTour pros: Pavel Sivakov, Lucas Hamilton, Matteo Fabbro, Scott Davies and Jai Hindley. Fifth on stage 5a saw Padun finish the tour in fifth overall.

In September he returned to the GP Capodarco where he’d finished ninth two years earlier. This time he won the hilly one-dayer, once again on his own. Ninth that day: future Tour de France winner Tadej Pogacar.

In late 2017 Padun joined Bahrain-Merida as a stagiaire for three Italian one-dayers. Impressed with what they saw, the team offered Padun a contract, which the young rider gladly accepted.

“It was a very big pleasure to ride with a big Team like Bahrain-Merida as a trainee and an even bigger pleasure to sign an agreement as a pro rider,” Padun said at the time. “If I think back to a year ago, I believed that sooner or later I would succeed in becoming a pro rider, but if I go back two years, it was like something impossible. It was my big dream and I went to Italy to make it come true.”

Once in the pro ranks in 2018, it didn’t take Padun long to impress. At the Itzulia Basque Country in April, his first stage race of the year and his first WorldTour stage race, the Ukrainian finished seventh on stage 5, just behind the likes of eventual GC winner Primoz Roglic and runner-up Mikel Landa.

At the Tour of the Alps later that month, Padun took his first pro win. On the lumpy final stage, Padun attacked with 4 km to go and rode solo to the line, just holding off a late charge from George Bennett.

At the Hammer Series team event in Limburg, Padun proved vital for Bahrain-Merida, riding solo to the line to move his team to the top of the points tally. At the Tour of Austria he was impressively consistent, finishing inside the top 10 on four of the six stages he completed.

Later in 2018, Padun made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a España. He immediately looked at home, taking third place from the breakaway on stage 12. At the Road World Championships in Innsbruck – the same city in which he won his Tour of the Alps stage – Padun took a solid fifth in the U23 road race.

While Padun had started his pro career in impressive fashion, his 2019 season was comparatively quieter. Still, it wasn’t without highlights. He continued his Nationals ITT progression, winning the elite title for the first time. He then headed to the four-day Adriatica Ionica Race in Italy where he won on the uphill finish to stage 2. He would ultimately win that race overall – his first stage race victory as a professional.

Returning to the Vuelta, Padun took fifth on the mountainous stage 15 from the break.

Padun’s 2020 season was his least impressive since joining the pro ranks. The lone highlight: second on stage 12 of the October Giro d’Italia after being away with stage winner Jhonatan Narvaez (Ineos Grenadiers).

Padun might have won that stage were it not for a broken wheel with 24 km to go that left the Ukrainian with a frustrating chase to try and catch Narvaez. He never quite got there.

Until this past weekend, 2021 looked to be going pretty poorly for Padun as well. He’d had no real results to speak of (ninth on a stage of the Tour of the Alps notwithstanding). He even admitted over this past weekend that he’d started to doubt his ability to race at the highest level.

“Last year I thought that cycling might not be my sport after all,” Padun said. “This year wasn’t going well either.”

Even at the Dauphine he looked unable to handle the pace when the road went up. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, he managed to win two stages.

“It’s amazing to me: my first WorldTour victory in one of the toughest stages of the tour,” Padun said enthusiastically after the first of his two stage wins. “I had felt so bad the last few days. And today I had fantastic legs. When I crossed the finish line, I thought I was dreaming. But it wasn’t a dream.

“I never thought I’d be in the top 10. But when Porte attacked, I closed the gap to protect [teammate Jack] Haig. And then I thought, why not try something, then my mother can see me on TV.”

Padun winning stage 7 of the 2021 Critérium du Dauphiné.

Speaking after winning the final stage, Padun said the turnaround in his form was fuelling-related. He’d just come from an altitude training camp where he’d lost 4.5 kg, and he’d forgotten about the importance of fuelling properly for racing.

“When I [realised] I felt really bad, I just [went] full gas on eating,” he said. “And, unexpectedly, that was what I [was missing]. I missed the energy, because the legs I have now I didn’t have [before]. So I’m just 24 years and I’m not going to do that mistake anymore!”

There’s no doubt Padun’s weekend exploits came as something of a surprise, given his average showing over the past year or so, and particularly after an inconspicuous start to the Dauphiné. But, as his past achievements show, there’s also no doubt he’s a terrific climber who, on his day, can mix it with the world’s best uphill.

How did he manage to win two stages in a row at the Dauphiné? On Saturday’s stage 7 he likely benefited from being more than half an hour down on GC. When he attacked on that final climb, the top GC riders were under no real pressure to chase him down. That opportunity, plus some great legs, helped him to a hard-fought stage win. On stage 8 he again posed no threat on the GC, so he was allowed to get into the breakaway.

That’s not to say two WorldTour stage wins just fell in Padun’s lap. Far from it. On both occasions he put himself in a position to win, and on both occasions some stellar form allowed him to do just that.

Based on his performances this past weekend, you’d have to think the 24-year-old is a shoe-in to make his Tour de France debut later this month. One betting site even has Padun equal-eighth favourite to win the whole thing overall.

While that view seems a little optimistic, Padun could well feature in some capacity. If he can climb like he did at the Dauphine, he might well add another solo stage win in the mountains to his palmares, this time at the biggest race on the planet.

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