Mads Pedersen rises toward top of Paris-Roubaix power ranking with early season harvest

Former world champion stakes claim alongside Alexander Kristoff and Stefan Küng as rivals to Mathieu van der Poel in a reshaped 'Hell of the North.'

Photo: Getty Images

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He’s beaten sprinters in bunch sprints, and climbers in climbing stages. Now he’s got to beat the best cobble-bashers at Paris-Roubaix.

Mads Pedersen’s early season tear continued with his second win in three days at Circuit de la Sarthe on Thursday, leaving him poised as a top contender for next weekend’s “Hell of the North.”

“It’s been a good week. It’s nice to have a shape like this and especially with Paris-Roubaix coming up,” Pedersen said Thursday.

Also read: Second win in a week for Pedersen at Sarthe

Pedersen has long seen Paris-Roubaix as the cobbled crown jewel of the classics, and the pavé has taken pride of place in his schedule through recent seasons.

Four victories and a haul of top-10s, including sixth in Milan-Sanremo, seventh at Gent-Wevelgem, and eighth at Tour of Flanders, leave the Dane perfectly placed to finally convert that cobblestone fantasy into a hellish reality.

Next weekend’s “Hell of the North” has been blown open by the uncertainty hanging over Wout van Aert after his recent brush with COVID, the absence of defending champion Sonny Colbrelli due to heart problems, the uncertainty of Peter Sagan, and the early season stupor engulfing Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl.

Also read: UCI continues to monitor Colbrelli 

Roubaix is already being touted as “Mathieu van der Poel vs the masses,” and a swathe of dark horses have started stepping from the shadows in the search for the mythical cobblestone trophy.

A reshaped Paris-Roubaix

Pedersen made it four for the season Thursday. (Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images)

Pedersen’s series of starring rides so far this spring slots him to the top of Roubaix’s second-string.

Perennial dark horse Stefan Küng and tough-as-nails Norweigan Alexander Kristoff have likewise piloted themselves toward pole position in a race taking on an altogether different complexion to what was expected six weeks ago.

“King Küng” is stirring Swiss hopes of a first Roubaix victory since Fabian Cancellara in 2013 with his swashbuckling rides and top-6 finishes at E3 Classic, Dwars door Vlaanderen and the Tour of Flanders.

Kristoff’s gutsy gallop to victory at Scheldeprijs this week after a string of major wins for both him and his Intermarché-Wanty team leaves the grizzled Norwegian in the frame to add to the Flanders-Sanremo monument haul that has been gathering dust since 2015.

Meanwhile, Kasper Asgreen and Quick-Step’s form-line is fading, van Aert is without recent racing, and Colbrelli doesn’t know when he will race again.

And Pedersen?

The Trek-Segafredo captain has beaten the likes of van Aert, Mark Cavendish and Biniam Girmay in bunch sprints, and out-powered climbers like Thibaut Pinot and Benoit Cosnefroy in recent weeks.

Also read: How Pedersen started the season so strong 

With Roubaix’s form-book in flux, 2022 could give Pedersen his best chance yet at having his name inscribed into one of Roubaix velodrome’s iconic showers.

“My trainer and the team have a big master plan for Paris-Roubaix, and I’m just following it,” Pedersen said in a team conference earlier this year.

Pedersen reinvented his regime this winter and customized his calendar to hit a peak for the April pavé.

So far the plan is proving masterful, but Roubaix will have the final tell.

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