Sixth at the UAE Tour on his WorldTour debut, Denmark’s Mattias Skjelmose Jensen gave one more signal that the current crop of talented young cyclists don’t need to mature to perform at the highest level as he ousted Vincenzo Nibali from the leadership role at Trek-Segafredo.
“I didn’t expect to do so well. I didn’t come to the UAE to ride for GC myself but mainly to help Vincenzo to do that," Skjelmose, who is eight months younger than Remco Evenepoel, declared at the start of the concluding stage.
“Then I was lucky enough to make the first split on day 1 and everything went well for me after that. I could follow a lot of the good climbers. It’s a confirmation of my shape for now.”
Trek-Segafredo sport director Adriano Baffi explained how the team reshuffled for the UAE Tour and included the 20-year-old Dane, who started his professional career at the Etoile de Bessèges in early February.
“When we found out that there was an individual time trial here, Mattias really had the characteristics for this race," the experienced Italian said. “So we found space for him in the team here. We knew he could do well in the ITT and the climbs but on the first day he also showed that he’s awake. He was at the front in the echelons. But even if he didn’t make the first group on day 1, he’d have made the top 10 overall with his results later on."
“I don’t know if the UAE Tour will speed up my career," Skjelmose answered. “We’re still taking it up slowly, or let’s say that I’m trying to take it slowly. The team didn’t put any pressure on me."
“Let’s hope this is only a starting point," Baffi echoed. “However, he’s already competing at a very high level because this is a WorldTour race. We had him at a training camp and as a trainee at the end of last year already. In this team, we work pretty well with young riders but sometimes unfortunately they leave us. We signed without any hesitation because we knew his abilities.”
Skjelmose was a world class junior in 2018, winning the Tour du Pays de Vaud, second at the Peace Race behind Evenepoel and third at Paris-Roubaix.
“Remco and I raced quite a lot together as juniors," said Skjelmose. “He was one level above everyone else. But I was kind of the second guy after him. We’re both GC riders but I wouldn’t be smart to compare myself to him. This guy is a huge talent. Only one like that comes every 100 years. I want to be a GC guy. This race has confirmed that I’m on the track to be a GC guy but we’ll see what the future brings.”
Baffi added that even though Skjelmose is young, he still knows what he wants.
“Mattias is sixth on GC but no better than fourth in the best young rider competition. But we see that the young guys nowadays are very well prepared. In Denmark, the level of young cyclists is very high. They work a lot. It’s just unknown for the moment how many years these young talents can last at the highest level," Baffi said.
"They want to succeed as much as they can as early as possible but I’m not sure for how long their mind can handle it. It’s not specific to cycling though. Mattias has a good future with the characteristics of a Grand Tour GC rider. What we don’t know yet about him is his recovery but for sure he still has a huge margin of improvement.”
Skjelmose is set to have the Volta Catalunya as the next test of his competitiveness in the WorldTour.
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