Hot form and cold mind for Søren Kragh Andersen, the Tour de l'Avenir's patron

A two-time stage winner, the Danish is working his psychology

Danish double stage winner, Søren Kragh Andersen, works a lot on psychology and doesn’t go wild. He was sitting on the hot seat behind the scenes, waiting for his challengers to beat his time and crossing the line, one after the other, on the Tour de l'Avenir's prologue, in Tonnerre, Burgundy. He almost apologized or minimized his performance: "I am not an expert in time trial". He had flown over the cobbles, the 12% climb and the fast downhill where he reached 84km/h, but the Danish strong-boy didn't want to celebrate too much.

Kragh Andersen had the same cold attitude on Tuesday right after the finish line of the "mini Tour de France", where he took victory after a 10 km breakaway with four other riders. "All my team was strong, other Danish riders could have won," he said. The red and white squad is certainly impressing everyone through its attacks and its three successes in four days – Mads Pedersen, a former Junior Paris-Roubaix champion, won Monday’s stage in a breakaway.

Kragh Andersen, a 21-year-old rouleur, strong building, round face with blonde hairs, is always controlling his emotions.

"He is very strong in his legs but also mentally," his coach Morten Bennekou tells Cyclingnews. "We like keeping our riders in the national team two to four years before they turn pro, to help them improve in safe conditions. But Søren is now ready to go to the next step."

Cyclingnews understands the two-time stage winner at the Tour de l'Avenir has already signed a contract with a WorldTour team but he declines to say more about his plans, only adding he might move to Girona, Spain – where members of several pro teams have established their home base.

Kragh Andersen is careful with his words as much as with his emotions. Asked why he loves his sport, he mentions humble things like pain and team work. "The suffer is a good feeling when you are strong," he explains. "I really enjoy it when I am in a good shape and with good legs". About his team playing he says he likes "riding for the others", whatever they are his fellows in the national team or his old brother Asbjørn, who races with him at Team Trefor-Blue Water, at Continental level.

"Actually I race more for my brother than he does for me, because he is a good sprinter," says Søren. "He is more than my brother, he is a good friend. I started cycling when I was eight because he did this sport and since then he always inspired me."

It's maybe not a coincidence that Asbjørn Kragh Andersen took the yellow jersey at the Tour de l'Avenir last year. "It's funny we have both done that, we spoke about that on the phone", says Søren, who kept the lead until Swiss Tom Bohli went into a breakaway Monday on stage 2.

If his brother is a sprint expert, the latest champion of the family doesn't know how to define himself. He tries, though: "I am not a climber but I can everything else". His coach believes he can be "a Classic rider, including on the cobbles, and a contender for 4-6 day stage races if there are a prologue and some short climbs". It means, potentially, a lot of victories, especially considering Kragh Andersen is fast in breakaways, like he proved Tuesday by out-sprinting with a two meter gap Dutch Mathieu Van Der Poel, the former-Junior road World Champion and Elite cyclocross World Champion.

This year he went second of the Tour des Fjords, Norway, behind Katusha's Marco Haller, was twice third at Tour of Denmark, and he won the ZLM Roompot Tour, the Dutch leg of the UCI U23 Nations' Cup.

His successful season contrasts with his attempt to look low-profile when he talks or jump into podiums, but Morten Bennekou says his rider has worked a lot to be so relaxed. "When he was young he was... not aggressive but he had a lot of temper in his head on and off the bike. Since last winter he has tried to improve that. Now he is very clever and calm."

When he feels nervous, Søren Kragh leaves his parents' house in Strib, on the island of Funen, in the Region of Southern Denmark. He has only a few minutes to drive to the sea cost and his little boat. "I like fishing," he confides. "I went last time in July when I had a little break after the national championships. This is perfect way to relax".

When he is on his bike and not in his boat – obviously the majority of time – he keeps in touch with a professor of psychology appointed by the Danish cycling federation. They also try to have one face-to-face meeting a month. The rider talks every day to the national coach too. "About why he did attack or not attack," he says. About the right moment to do something, about his feelings and about his mind..."

They both speak about next year too and the right balance to find between the bubble of sports and his relationship to his family, his friends, his boat and, of course, his emotions.

Pierre Carrey, the founder and president of DirectVelo, is Cyclingnews' correspondent at the Tour de l'Avenir.

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