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Mads Pedersen’s pre-stage pep talk to his teammates at the 2022 Vuelta a España did more than just inspire his team to victory in Spain.
Riding his second year as a professional in 2022, the 22-year-old has been learning the ropes from his fellow Dane. Whatever he took from Pedersen’s Vuelta speech obviously paid off as he went on to claim a stage win and the overall victory in Luxembourg, the first victories of a promising career.
“The most important thing I learned [last year] is that maybe the director says you are a leader, but you also need to show your team you’re a leader,” Skjelmose told VeloNews. “I have a big mentor in Mads. He’s a guy I really look up to and he feels like a big brother to me, he’s tried to teach me everything.
“Just before we started Luxembourg, I watched the pre-stage speech [at the Vuelta a España] the team put out on social media where he really pushed the guys to perform the best, the day he won for the first time. I learned so much from that. Of course, I don’t have the same confidence to be so direct as him, but I tried to do something like this, and I think that helped a lot on the team to see that I really meant it, that I could do this. I think that was the most important thing I learned that you need to show your teammates that you are a leader and not just have the director saying it.”
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Skjelmose and Pedersen have only been racing together as teammates for two seasons since the younger Dane joined the squad at the start of the 2021 season, following a stint as a stagiaire.
Though they are two very different riders, with Pedersen very much focused on the classics and sprints and Skjelmose a promising general classification talent, there is still a lot they can share. Skjelmose is keen to learn as much as he can from Pedersen and credits him with playing a part in making 2022 his best season to date.
“Of course, I cannot be the same rider as Mads because we have to be good in two different areas,” Skjelmose said. “But as a person, as a leader, and just as a human being in general, I really look up to everything he does. Like I said before, he feels like almost a big brother to me. He’s just a special person, and also one of the reasons why I went so good this year.”
A breakthrough win
The Tour of Luxembourg win, where he took the overall classification by five seconds, may have been Skjelmose’s first professional victory, but he had come close a few times already. Earlier in the season, he had lost out to Guillaume Martin in the Tour de l’Ain GC by five seconds, and he’d also taken third-place finishes at the Tour de Provence — behind Nairo Quintana and Julian Alaphilippe — the Tour of Denmark, and Tour de Wallonie.
He was hungry for more.
“I’d got so close so many times before and it really built up my motivation and, anger is not the right word, but my frustration for getting the win,” Skjelmose said. “After the Giro, I just had a completely different mindset that I was ready to suffer a lot more, and I was just motivated to perform because I could see how good my form got. After the Giro, I took a whole new step and put an extra level on my performance and I really felt that through the whole season.”
The Giro d’Italia was a turning point for Skjelmose in the 2022 season. He had gone into the Italian grand tour with relatively high expectations, despite it only being his first-ever grand tour.
He was to be second in line for team leadership if Giulio Ciccone faltered. Ciccone ultimately did have an underwhelming GC challenge, but instead of Skjelmose stepping up to the plate to take his place, it was Juan Pedro Lopez that took the role of team leadership.
While it was a special moment for Skjelmose to help his teammate Lopez to defend the pink leader’s jersey for over a week, he was left disappointed with his own performance.
“I think I trained a little bit too much and I did some mistakes before the Giro. Other than that I put too much pressure on myself and that just cracked my head mentally,” he said. “When you’re already on the way down with such a hard race you can never really recover from this. What I found last year is that the body makes the performance, but if the head is not there, it doesn’t matter how good the shape is. It’s impossible to do anything. And my head really cracked at the Giro. I think that was the main problem.”
After a year with plenty of lessons learned, Skjelmose is keen to take that into 2023 and make the forthcoming season an even better one with weeklong stage races primary among his targets.
“I hope to take another step. I think from last year to this year, I took a step from being quite good in .1 races to being right up there, so I think the most natural step will be to be closer in the WorldTour one-week stage races, and then after that, it is always my goal is just to keep developing all the time and just take small steps and improve when I’m not so good. I think that’s the most important for now.”
Another grand tour is on the cards for Skjelmose this year, but he’s not sure that he’s ready to return to Italy just yet.
“I’d really like to do the Tour. I burned myself a little bit in the Giro and I think we found the reason why, but personally, I just love to race in France. So, I really hope I can do that,” Skjelmose said.