Two years ago in Harrogate, Mads Pedersen became Denmark's first men's world champion on the road, pulling off a surprise victory in horrible conditions and propelling himself to a new level of stardom.
He's back for more this year, but it is his teammate Magnus Cort who has received the most attention in the build-up to the road race in Flanders on Sunday, courtesy of his three stage victories at the Vuelta a España.
The 28-year-old is the nominal leader of the Danish squad for the road race, part of arguably the strongest men's team the country has ever produced. He and Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne winner Pedersen will be joined on the start list by Tour of Flanders champion Kasper Asgreen as the most prominent names in the team, but it's a deep squad.
Mikkel Honoré won a stage at Itzulia Basque Country and was fourth at the recent Tour of Britain, Michael Valgren has hit form with wins in two recent Italian semi-Classics, Andreas Kron and national champion Mads Würtz Schmidt have won stages at Catalunya, Suisse and Tirreno-Adriatico this year, and Mikkel Bjerg is a three-time U23 time trial world champion.
"For sure the Danish team is a historic strong team for Denmark," Cort said after completing his effort at Wednesday's mixed relay team time trial, where Denmark finished with a creditable sixth place.
"We're here with eight riders. For many years we didn't have a full team but it's not only eight riders; we also have really strong riders. We probably don't have a big favourite, but we have a very strong team collectively."
Despite the top form he carried through the Vuelta and his suitability for the hilly Worlds course in Leuven, Cort refused to name himself as the Danish leader for Sunday's race. His previous top results in three Worlds appearances were 29th in Qatar and Norway, but he's certainly among the favourites this year.
"We don't have a clear leader," he said. "We have a very, very strong team and a lot of riders with a chance to win and we'll try to use that strength to our advantage.
"Of course, we'll also have some roles defined, but I don't know how much is decided yet."
One rider who is, as things stand, the number one favourite on home ground, is Belgian Wout van Aert. One Belgian journalist questioned Cort about his chances versus the man who came into the week off the back of an overall victory – plus four stage wins – at the Tour of Britain, and finished a narrow second in Sunday's time trial.
Cort, who won two stages at the Vuelta from the breakaway and one from a mid-size bunch sprint in Córdoba, said he'd back himself in a sprint again Van Aert, noting that such self-belief is a prerequisite in order to compete in a sprint against top competition.
"If we come home in a sprint and I'm with Van Aert then of course I'll believe in myself," he said. "I think you need to believe in yourself in order to win a sprint. He's a very strong rider but why not? I think more and more cyclists, they believe in themselves, and you'll see on the day who's the strongest.
"I have done some good sprints in the Vuelta and in the past. We also have some other fast riders, but it's always different in the Worlds. The race on Sunday will be very hard and I don't know what will happen and who has the legs in the end."
Cort concluded with an assessment of his form ahead of the race. It's fair to question whether a rider can hold top form after several weeks without racing – the mixed relay was his first race since finishing the Vuelta on September 5 – but he was confident about his shape.
"I think and hope it's still good," Cort said. "It's always difficult to try and keep the form going after the Vuelta for three weeks but I feel pretty good and obviously have done my very best to stay in as good shape as possible since the Vuelta."
Daniel joined Cyclingnews as staff writer in 2019 after working as a freelancer around pro cycling media for the previous seven years.
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