Mads Pedersen wins brutal world championships road race from three-up sprint
Mads Pedersen (Denmark) won an attritional race in Yorkshire to become the 2019 world road race champion.
The 23-year-old outsprinted last-men standing Matteo Trentin (Italy) and Stefan Küng (Switzerland), who took second and third respectively. After nearly six-and-a-half hours of racing through grim weather, the Dane had the legs to come around Trentin, who had opened up the three-man sprint with 200 meters to go.
“It’s every riders dream to wear that jersey, and for me to do it now, it’s unbelievable,” the Trek-Segafredo rider said after the race.
“I just hoped when I saw the finish line that all the pain would be gone and I could do a good sprint. It’s six-and-a-half hours on the bike and everyone is on the limit, so everything could happen in that sprint,” he continued.
Pre-race favorite Matthieu van der Poel (Netherlands) was in the group of five that led the race into the closing circuit of Harrogate before spectacularly blowing on 12 kilometers to go. Gianni Moscon (Italy) was also in the front group in the final lap but was dropped with five kilometers remaining, having ridden hard for his countryman Trentin in the close of the race.
Rain fell heavily the preceding night and through the first 150km of the race. The route was shortened by 25km to avoid deep sections of standing water, but the peloton still had to negotiate deep puddles in places, and TV coverage was impacted as race helicopters couldn’t fly in the high winds.
Eleven riders eventually formed into an escape group, including former grand tour winners Primoz Roglic (Slovenia), Nairo Quintana (Colombia), and Richard Carapaz (Ecuador), along with American Alex Howes.
The escape gained around four minutes of a gap, though as soon as the nine closing circuits drew near, their lead tumbled to little over one minute. Philippe Gilbert hit the deck hard as the group condensed on the opening climb of the first circuit, and was paced back toward the action by teammate Remco Evenepoel. However, the veteran Belgian eventually abandoned in tears.
As the race took on the opening circuits, the race split into bits, with riders continually slipping off the back, and the harsh weather leading to several high-profile abandons, including Alejandro Valverde, Nairo Quintana, and Primoz Roglic.
The pivotal action kicked off when Lawson Craddock (USA) accelerated from the front group with 65km to go and built a gap, with Kung joining him. Pedersen came up to them at around 50km to go, with Moscon joining soon after. They gained 20 seconds on the chasers, before van der Poel and Trentin accelerated clear from the pack to bridge to them.
The lead group settled to five with Trentin, van der Poel, Pedersen, Kung, and Moscon over 30 seconds ahead of the main group of chasers and three 14-kilometer laps remaining.
“The plan was to get me out early in the race and let [Michael] Valgren and [Jakob] Fuglsang come from behind,” said Pedersen after the race. “But in the end, they didn’t follow when van der Poel and Trentin came to my group, and from there on [my plan was] just to ride, to survive, and hope for the best in the sprint.”
The five slowly eeked out an advantage with the Belgian and French teams arguing over chase duties in the main group of 30 riders behind them.
As the race entering the final lap, the five leaders had almost one minute of a gap, and the Belgian team was forced into leading the chase, with Yves Lampaert pulling hard for teammate Greg van Avermaet.
Van der Poel was the first of the leaders to succumb to the fatigue, with Moscon the next to go after riding hard to support teammate Trentin.
Pedersen, Trentin, and Kung entered the final kilometer with a comfortable lead over the chasers and started looking at each other to open the attacks on the closing 500-meter drag to the line. Pedersen led the trio up the street, with Trentin sat on his wheel. The Italian opened the sprint with 200 meters to go, but Pedersen was able to accelerate out of his draft and come to the line over a bike-length in front.
“You had to be focussed all day and stay in front,” said the 2019 world champion. “It’s one of the last races of the season so you have to make sure you stay focussed for six-and-a-half hours, don’t get any bad luck, and hope for the best.”