Rounding the corner in the final kilometre, just before the beginning of the long uphill drag to the finish of stage 8 of the Tour, there are three Lidl-Trek riders on the front. They’re pretty hard to miss: Alex Kirsch at the front in a distinctive Luxembourg national champions kit, and the team’s distinctive primary colours on the shoulders of the riders behind him. In third wheel, it’s the big Dane, Mads Pedersen, who’s been trying to do something special all day. Surfing the movements of the charging peloton left and right, he finally launches his sprint, just holding off the closing wheel of Jasper Philipsen on his left.
As he’s rolling past the finish, salute out of the way, he reaches down to speak – nope, yell – into the mic on his chest. First offering: a bellowed “whoooooo!” Second offering: an emphatic “fucking hell boys, you’re fucking amazing.”
The results sheet will show another win for Mads Pedersen, his second at the Tour de France and his fourth in a row across the three Grand Tours. But as is often the case in cycling – and as Pedersen himself was quick to point out – it was a result built on teamwork: a unified effort from Lidl-Trek, with Pedersen finishing it off.
“We had a plan A, and a plan B, and in the end today it was plan B,” said team director Steven de Jongh after the finish, walking reporters through how the team had tried repeatedly for a breakaway before giving up. In fact, it was Pedersen himself who’d given that a shot: “I tried a few times this morning, but I realised they wouldn’t let me go, so I just decided to hang on and try to save some energy,” he explained, face still flushed from exertion and a hot day’s racing in the centre of France.
Having shifted to plan B, Lidl-Trek’s contribution to the chase of the breakaway was significant – Juan Pedro Lopez and Giulio Ciccone “pulling half the day,” in Pedersen’s words. And in the lumpy finale leading into Limoges it was all hands on deck – notably including the team’s ailing GC hope, Matthias Skjelmose.
Skjelmose, wearing the white cross-on-red jersey of Danish champion, has suffered setbacks in this Tour including a back injury that makes him feel “like I’m 90 years old.” Still, he jumped on the front, happy to work for his compatriot. “It was hard,” he said at the team bus. “I did a controlled effort – Alex Kirsch guided me the whole way, so I only had to pedal – he told me what to do.” A teammate rolls in mid-interview, leading to a loud round of “fucking good job”s and some enthusiastic backslapping. A whoop and some more explosive F-bombs ring out from in the bus as another teammate enters.
“Mads is a fucking great leader,” Skjelmose continues. “When you help him, he will also give ten times back. That’s just something incredible to have in the bank.” I ask whether there’s any special significance that comes from having ridden for a countryman’s win. Skjelmose smiles. “Not only that he’s a countryman, but also that I feel like Mads is almost a big brother to me. To have him win and me be a part of it …” he pauses for a moment, smiling. “It’s special.”
In broad terms, Pedersen is one of the fastest men in the sport, but he’s not a pure sprinter. “This final suits me better than the other finals. Those easy days with the hard sprint finishes, they’re not easy for me … I’m missing a bit of speed,” he said in his post-win press conference.
He’s a humble and realistic guy, Pedersen; later on he’s asked whether he sees himself as competitive with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert. “I would say that these guys are the superstars of cycling. They’re super good, and they’re winning almost anything,” he says. “I will say that I’m below these guys – but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to beat them.”
For that to happen, a rider like Mads Pedersen needs to overcome both generational talents and pure thoroughbreds like Jasper Philipsen, the green-jersey wearer in the midst of a career-defining hot streak. But on the right course, on the right day, with the right team backing him, the cheerful Dane can take on the world. “It was a perfect job,” De Jongh said emphatically, standing outside the team bus while Pedersen saluted the crowd from the stage down the road. “Everybody did their work, and everybody can be very proud.”
Pedersen, asked how he got to this position again, put it even more simply. “This is what teamwork looks like,” he said, grinning.
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