Mads Pedersen (Trek-Segafredo) won a thrilling edition of Gent-Wevelgem on Sunday afternoon in what might end up being just one of many Classics victories for the rider from Holbæk, Denmark. More than anything, the 24-year-old former world champion proved he's not just a one-hit wonder.
"That's what I wanted to show," Pedersen said in the post-race mixed zone in Wevelgem. "It means a lot for me to win here. Firstly because I skipped Worlds to be ready here and it's paying off.
"I did good in Flanders two years ago and now I show that I'm one of the guys who can win the Classics. That's really nice. Also, I wanted to show that my victory at the world championships was not [a fluke].
"It means a lot to me that I was able to show that I'm not a rider who gets a good result only once in a while. Watching Worlds was painful. You were world champion and you're not there to defend your jersey. It's a bit painful but the jersey fits Alaphilippe quite well so it's OK," Pedersen said.
Last year at the world championships road race in Harrogate, Pedersen surprised the cycling world by beating the supposedly faster Matteo Trentin in the sprint. It turned out that Pedersen coped best with the horrendous weather conditions.
In Wevelgem, Trentin featured in the three-man lead group with Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) and Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck-QuickStep) that escaped the favourites' group within the final two kilometres of the 232km race.
Just before hitting the final kilometre, Pedersen jumped away from a group with pre-race favourites Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) and bridged across to the leaders. In the end, he easily got the better from Sénéchal, Trentin and Bettiol.
"Trentin told me that he's getting nightmares," Pedersen laughed. "Actually, my sprint is as bad in the end as it is in the beginning. Luckily a bike race like this is five hours long," and the foul weather during those hours had worn many riders down.
"There were constant switches with 20 minutes of rain and then 20 minutes without rain. It was changing a lot. It was taking a lot of energy because you were taking clothing on and off. In my mindset you just have to accept the weather. Afterwards, we can put warm clothing on and take a warm shower," Pedersen said. Add a strong sprint to that mentality and it is an ideal mixture for foul weather at a one-day race.
When Pedersen jumped away in the final kilometres towards Trentin, Alberto Bettiol (EF Education First) and Florian Sénéchal (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) no other rider reacted on the move. Pedersen explained that it was a gamble.
"I tried to ride a bit smarter than usual. It's a decision you take in a split second. The group where I was started to slow down. On my beautiful old white bike, I had a sticker 'all or nothing'. I had enough in the tank to bridge across. If you don't try it then you're going to be out of the top three anyway. At least I tried. This time it paid off but maybe next time it's going to bite me in the ass."
Pedersen profited from the rivalry among pre-race top favourites Van Aert and Van der Poel, who marked each other in the final kilometres. "They are two strong guys and nobody wants to let them go. Of course, they're looking a bit more to each other. Also when Stefan Küng attacked, you know that you can't let him go because when he has 30 seconds when you hit the tail-crosswinds section, then he's gone. Everyone agreed to get him back. It's the same with those two guys. As I said before: if they look at each other more than to the rest of us then that's a good situation for us. I saw some rivalry in the final 10 kilometres. I realized it one time when Mathieu closed a gap back down on Wout, then I really saw it.
"Meanwhile, I was riding my race and trying to save as much energy as possible and looking at what the other guys did," Pedersen said. He was impressed by their performance on the third and final ascent of the Kemmelberg and explained how he felt when Van Aert and Van der Poel were blasting by. "Go deep. Follow," Pedersen joked. "Then again, I don't think you can make the difference on the climbs here. You make a bigger difference on the top. It was good for us that we had a little gap before the Kemmel. We could take on a more easy and controlled pace over the climbs."
After Sunday's victory in Gent-Wevelgem surely Pedersen can be regarded as one of the favourites for next week's Tour of Flanders. "Maybe after a result like this one might consider me as a favourite but it's up to journalists to do that, not up to me. This win is giving me more motivation. The whole team did well. When coming into the classics we had a good talk with the team. We decided to approach every race as if it's the last race of the season. You never know what happens. Every day it's all-in. That's going to be the case again on Wednesday and Sunday."
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