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'They are bigger talents than me' – Mads Pedersen on chasing Monuments against cycling's superstars

A road world title, stage wins at each Grand Tour and 40 professional victories at some of the biggest races. This could be mistaken for the palmarès of a rider at the end of an illustrious career, but they actually detail what Mads Pederson has managed before turning 28. 

Something is still missing for the brilliant Dane, however. That something is a Monument.

Cycling’s Monuments are the five most prestigious one-day races, steeped in history and battled out across the longest and hardest parcours. Few of the sport’s icons are missing from the winners list of these races – from Fausto Coppi and Eddy Merckx to Tadej Pogačar and Mathieu van der Poel – and winning even one can make an entire career or cement a legacy.

And that is why Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) would trade a whole season of success, including a Tour de France stage victory and completion of the Grand Tour stage win set at the Giro, for just one Monument victory to be indelibly marked onto his palmarès in 2024.

“There’s no doubt that I’m here to win bike races, but for next year, if I could change all the results I did this year for one Monument. Yeah, I would do it, 100%,” Pedersen told Cycling News at Lidl Trek’s December training camp.

Pedersen’s name is already in cycling’s history books, having claimed a one-day race that sits right at the top tier on the scale of importance, the World Championships road race in 2019. Considered a surprise for some at only 23, and not a pre-race favourite, Pedersen has gone on to establish himself indisputably as one of the best riders in the world.

There were signs that his talents were specifically suited to the most brutal days in the saddle the previous year, when he took second at the Tour of Flanders on his debut at the race in 2018. Only Niki Terpstra was better on that occasion, when Pedersen spent an arduous day in the early breakaway and, as a 22-year-old, gave everyone a preview of what was to come in the years following. 

The common theme between these two early successes was that even for Pedersen himself it was an unexpected journey to the podium of the Monument in 2018 and to the very top step at the World Championships road race in 2019.

However, the first Dane to win the men’s road race at the World Championships is a much more assured rider today, aware of his talents and ability to beat the very best in the world. After all, he did just that on a rainy day in Yorkshire just over four years ago so now it can hardly be so unexpected when he has his arms aloft.

Sixth, third, fourth and fourth: his results from Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the World Championships in 2023. Quite the set of positions but without victory. Standing in his way were two modern giants of the sport – Van der Poel and Pogačar.

When asked how he could beat them when the time comes this season, Pedersen first paused before revealing his confidence in his ability to better those modern-day “superstars”, albeit with the caveat that everything has to go just right.

“I know I can…I was beating them before, and I still believe I can do it again,” said Pedersen. 

“But it all comes down to how the race will be raced on that day. If I show up in my best shape possible, the best mental shape possible, and the best idea of how to win the race then I think it’s possible. 

“It’s gonna be tough. It can also be guys who are not any of these superstars. But it’s not really in my mind ‘How do I beat those guys?’, but ‘What can I do right now to be the best possible on that day?’”

Pedersen’s race tactics in the Classics back up his words, the rider often not waiting for his close rivals to jump but instead anticipating and getting ahead of the racing. Twice it has brought him close to that dream of a Monument, in the aforementioned 2018 Ronde and last year’s edition of the same race when he was already on the attack with 114km to go.

Launching on just the fifth of 19 cobbled sectors, his move on Wolvenberg would see his day out in front in Flanders last until the final 18km where on the Oude Kwaremont, a Slovenian rocket flew past him. Pogačar had chased him down and would go on to take a historic solo victory.

“I don’t think I could have done anything better,” Pedersen said of his race decisions. The Dane emerged as third after somehow winning the small group sprint ahead of Wout van Aert with the idea that he was willing to pop trying rather than simply follow.

Something similar would happen at the World Championships in Glasgow where he showed his class in the selected lead group with Pogačar, Van der Poel, Van Aert and Alberto Bettiol, but none of them could match the Dutchman on that day.

So despite all his confidence and clear talent as a top-tier bike racer, Pedersen was of course not going to label himself as one of the “superstars” he had previously mentioned. Perhaps because he’s modest, as Danes tend to be, or that’s just where he believes he sits in this generation.

“I don’t want to put myself in that box, because I know they are bigger talents than me. They have more results than me. And they are just also winning more than me, Pedersen said.

“I have my good days where I can compete with those guys and as I said I still believe I can beat them. But I wouldn’t sit here and say I’m in the same box as these people because they are the fucking superstars of cycling. Not only on the bike but also off the bike.  

“I will say I’m just a step below those people. But I’m totally fine with that and I enjoy how it is for me right now.”

Mind you, a step below a pair of riders that have cleaned up nine of the last 18 Monuments between them could warrant ‘superstar’ status – not that Pedersen may care. What he desires is that Monument and he’s one of the few in the peloton capable of grasping it.

Flying start to 2024 and riding for himself

The Dane couldn’t have started his 2024 season much better, with top-ten finishes on each race day so far. At Etoile de Bessèges, he added another stage win and took the overall GC win, before heading to the Tour de Provence where he was at his versatile best.

Pedersen took three stage wins in brutally dominant fashion and the GC. Both were important preparation races where he wanted to perform of course, but what follows in spring is where Pedersen will want to be at the peak of his powers.

Just last month, he was already checking out the Poggio while completing a recon of Milan-San Remo. It will be the first chance of the year to satisfy his Monument-sized appetite with the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix later to come in spring.

It’s often described as “the easiest Monument to finish but the hardest to win” and Pedersen has been sixth two years running at the last editions but not on the top step of the podium he desires.

Not only will Pedersen want it for himself, but his team Lidl-Trek will be desperate to score a Monument with their big new sponsor coming on board at last year’s Tour de France. 

It’s a reported 40% boost in the budget brought in by the supermarket, but the Dane isn’t feeling a single per cent of extra pressure. However, he is aware of the bolstered Classics team invested in by the American squad with Tim Declercq’s experience and Jonathan Milan’s high-ceiling brought in to help them reach “super team” status.

“I’ll do the same approach. To be honest, I don’t care if the team puts more pressure on me – I don’t think they do, but I also put that pressure on myself because I still want to be the best of the team,” Pedersen told Cycling News.

“Of course, Lidl and Trek want to have results. That’s what they’re paying us for, and that’s why they signed all these new guys and have these new big, big ambitions.”

But it’s nothing external that makes Mads Pedersen tick, only his own ambitions can do that.

“I’m not riding to get credit. I’m riding to win and to achieve my own goals. If I get enough credit, to be honest, I don’t care. I’m not riding my bike to make my family happy or the team happy… or you guys happy,” he said gesturing to the room of journalists interviewing him and his teammates in Calpe.  

“I’m putting in goals in my mind and I’m riding to achieve those goals.”

He’ll be back racing on Sunday at Paris-Nice, before opening his Classics campaign at San Remo. Whether 2024 will be Mads’ Monument year is yet to be discovered but his consistency and powers appear to be at an all-time high. 

Pedersen certainly wouldn’t mind some rain either to take him back to that simultaneously grim but beautiful day out in Yorkshire five years ago to aid him on his quest to summon the same result on the cobbles of Roubaix or Flanders.

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
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