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Mads Pedersen has some “unfinished business” with the cobbled classics.
After enjoying a breakthrough ride at his debut Tour of Flanders in 2018, the Trek-Segafredo rider has struggled to back up that performance.
This season saw him return to the top-10 for the first time at Flanders since that result with a sixth-place finish, while Paris-Roubaix has never been kind to him. Some of it has been down to misfortune, Trek suffered a series of unfortunate crashes and mechanicals at the 2022 Roubaix, but he admits that he also didn’t have the legs at other times.
“I have unfinished business with the classics,” Pedersen told VeloNews at Trek-Segafredo’s training camp in Calpe on Tuesday. “I am focused on the classics. I wouldn’t say Roubaix because every time I say that I’m going to crash or something stupid, but I have to be up there in the classics and fighting for the victories.
“At Roubaix, I still feel for two years in a row I had bad luck and all the other classics like Flanders this year, I was good, but not good enough to follow the best one. So maybe I missed a little bit in this I have to be two percent better when we start the classics next year.”
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Despite his struggles at the classics in recent years, the races still hold a firm place in his heart. There’s something intangible and unexplainable about the races that make them a firm fixture on his calendar every year.
“To be honest, I can’t tell you [I like classics] because they’re shit races. It’s fucking cold, it’s long, and it’s wet. It’s everything you don’t like when you have to ride a bike, but it’s special. It’s the atmosphere, it’s the fans, and it is the status of the races. It sounds a little bit crazy but it’s a mix of a lot of things that makes it special.”
Pedersen found success in the classics and won the junior Paris-Roubaix in 2013, but his record at the elite event has not been great. Of the five times he’s ridden it, he’s failed to finish twice and his best result was 51st in 2019.
Since the junior Paris-Roubaix was introduced in 2003, no champion has gone on to win the elite title, with Jasper Stuyven’s fourth-place in 2017 the closest anyone has got. Pedersen would like to change that.
“It’s not easy to explain, because it’s just a feeling and always like, it’s like if you like a car or not, either you like it or you don’t,” Pedersen said of his love of the “Hell of the North.”
“Roubaix, I think the race suits me better. I won it as a junior, so it would be nice to have this small cobble go with the big cobblestone also. It’s crazy that I like it because I actually never did good in that race, but hopefully, it’s time to change.”
Backing up a big 2022 campaign
Despite the disappointments of the spring, Pedersen enjoyed a very strong 2022 season. The Dane racked up nine victories across the year, including stages at Paris-Nice and the Tour de France.
His best performance came at the Vuelta a España, where he won three stages and finished runner-up in four more to take the points classification.
“It was by far the best season I had overall, you know, it’s been a long and stable season the whole year. It’s hard to say a ‘best’ season when I have been world champion and stuff like that, but if I have to pick out one it would 100 percent be 2022,” Pedersen told VeloNews.
“I think it was mainly like the stability and I got older and more experienced. I also realized that I don’t have that many years of doing this, so it’s not the time anymore to waste another year of flying around and going up and down. Now it’s time to be focused at the time I’m racing, and it doesn’t matter if it’s Bessèges or the Tour, it’s the same focus for every race.”
It is going to be hard for Pedersen to match what he did in 2022, but he has already started setting out some big goals. Shortly after speaking with VeloNews on Tuesday, he unveiled his intentions to race the Giro d’Italia next season and complete the hattrick of grand tour stage wins.
If he can do that, it would be a pretty good year already for the 26-year-old. He doesn’t expect to be raising his arms quite as much in 2023 as he did this year but that’s not going to stop him from pushing to the max all year long and his expectations are far higher.
“The hardest thing is always to keep performing. You know, now, people have a lot of expectations on me, but I think it’s pretty hard to keep performing like I did this year,” he said. “I don’t expect more, I expect less than this year. It would be crazy to expect a season like I just had, but I think I can also put the barrier quite high and expect a lot from myself, which I do.
“I would be happy to have another season like the season we just came out of so. Maybe not the victories, but to be consistent and keep fighting for victories I think that’s most important.”