A talented and successful rider in the junior and U23 ranks, Mads Wurtz Schmidt already had two professional wins prior to joining the WorldTour ranks via Katusha-Alpecin in 2017. Now into his second year with the Swiss squad, the 23-year-old Dane wants to enjoy the feeling of winning again after a number of close calls last year.
A junior world time trial champion in 2011, Paris-Roubaix junior winner in 2012 and U23 world time trial champion in 2015, Schmidt's time trial prowess helped seal his passage into the WorldTour. His two Tour of Denmark time trial stage wins further demonstration of his prowess against the clock. However, the chrono isn't Schmidt's only skill set and avenue to victory.
"I believe I can do a lot of other things besides the TT, which I have shown previously. For me, I want to develop in many ways and I want to be able to win races and not just TTs. But I always want to keep the TT in mind. It is a really good weapon to have for GC races," Schmidt told Cyclingnews.
Schmidt finished third overall at the 2017 Etoile de Bessèges and 2015 Tour of Denmark, two results that were primarily due to his time trial skill. However, he isn't looking to target GC success just yet in his career, with Schmidt keen to test the limits of his capabilities.
"I think it is still too early to go for GC in stage races. For now, it is still part of my development to work on my TT," he said. "For sure I will target the TT stages in races. Last year wasn't a great season on the TT bike. I had a lot of things to adapt to as a pro. This year I get more time at home to train on my TT bike, and this is what got me pro so I want to succeed on the TT bike as a pro as well."
With the cobbles and time trials the scene of his greatest success to date, it is no surprise that Fabian Cancellara is an "idol" for Schmidt or that Tony Martin is another rider he admires. Schmidt explained the duo's influence on his career and racing style.
"A guy like Tony, he is a great rider. What he has achieved is amazing. To be world champion four times and still win normal stages at the Tour and other races, that is the dream to reach what he has achieved," he said. "And a guy like Cancellara is one of my biggest idols. How he is winning Roubaix every year, leaving it all out there and doing a TT. That is how I won it in juniors. I got alone and went in the TT position and went ahead. That is my way to win races: Get out there, attack and get away alone. He is a big inspiration."
While Schmidt's characteristics are suited to the classics, he will have a cobble-light race programme for 2018 as he prepares for his Grand Tour debut at the Giro d'Italia in May. However, a return to his favourite race, Paris-Roubaix, has been locked in before lining out for the Corsa Rosa.
"My programme is to do some stage races, but I still have a few classics like Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne, which I am looking forward to and then I have Paris-Roubaix," he said. "I will do Catalunya the week before instead of the Belgium week. For me, it is a nice programme. I get to do some stage races before the Giro, and I come into Roubaix with good shape and no stress at all from the Belgian races. I come with a fresh mind, so it is a nice preparation."
While Denmark is well represented in the WorldTour via the likes of Jakob Fuglsang, Michael Morkov and Lars Bak, a younger generation of riders looks likely to supersede the performances of their elder compatriots. The list of riders to watch include Michael Valgren, Mads Pedersen, Søren Kragh Andersen, Magnus Cort and Schmidt - not to mention the number of U23 and junior riders already on the radar of several WorldTour teams.
It is not only on the road either that Denmark has prospered, with its track programme enjoying Olympic gold medal success, for example, via Lasse Norman Hansen in 2012. Defending his omnium medal four years later in Rio, Hansen won an Olympic bronze, with Denmark also claiming the bronze in the team pursuit.
Unsure exactly what the secret of success was for Denmark in producing a 'golden generation' born in the early to mid-1990s, Schmidt suggests that friendly competition and learning how to complement each other in the national team are two key components. He cited riders taking their time to develop at Continental and Pro Continental level as another possible factor.
"It all started in juniors and my generation, and the year before, as we won everything. We got to U23 and had to spend two years there. We rocked l'Avenir one year and then I won the world championships," Schmidt said, referring to the 2015 season.
The 2015 Tour de l'Avenir is a highlight for Denmark, with Andersen winning two stages, and one each for Pedersen and Schmidt.
"When we have been competing against each other for so many years, when I see Søren win a stage at l'Avenir for example, I think, 'I can do it myself', and Mads was thinking the same," he reflected. "He won the next day. Søren won again and then I thought, 'Damn, it is my time'. I fought a little bit harder and I won a stage.
"We have this thing where we make each other better. I became a WorldTour rider a bit later than the other guys, but when I see what they achieve, Søren for example last season in Gent-Wevelgem and the autumn, it inspires me. I can do the same."
Of this current crop, the Classics are where Schmidt believes the Danes can enjoy great success.
"I believe that within a few years we will have some Danish guys rocking up the classics. Maybe not like Gilbert, Van Avermaet and Sagan style, but we will be up there and hopefully be contenders for the win," he said.
Starting Saturday in Belgium at Omloop, the Danish Classics offensive will begin, with Schmidt et al aiming to continue Denmark's winning start to 2018.