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GEELONG, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 02: Start / Mads...

Pedersen wants stripes to shine for classics

World champion used sunny Australia as a low-key runway into his season that includes a likely Tour de France debut.

GEELONG, Australia (VN) — Mads Pedersen’s world champion season got off to slow simmer.

The Trek-Segafredo star left the opening block of racing in Australia motivated to show off the rainbow stripes back in Europe.

After a slow but steady start to the season, it’s all about hitting the boiling point for the spring classics.

“The next races are the classics and now it’s a good focus for that,” Pedersen told VeloNews on Sunday. “[Australia has] been good preparation for that.”

The baby-faced world champion tried to go out in a flourish Sunday at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race to bookend a steady 2020 season debut in Australia. The big Dane powered into a select, race-winning 15-rider move on the bell lap, but got gapped on a final climb under pressure from Mitchelton-Scott, falling short of his goal of pushing the stripes into the frame.

“It was pretty hard,” Pedersen said at the line Sunday. “Faster than I could go.”

Pedersen was keen to put his jersey on display at the Great Ocean Road Race. Photo: Con Chronis/Getty Images

Pedersen, who celebrated his 24th birthday in December in what was a very busy off-season, got back to the business of racing bikes in Australia.

At the Santos Tour Down Under to open his season, he was at the service of eventual winner Richie Porte. Pedersen was critical in helping his Tasmanian teammate save the day on the decisive final-stage climb at Willunga Hill to control a dangerous breakaway.

Once the pack transferred to Geelong, it was Pedersen’s turn to shine. Seventh at Race Torquay on January 31 and 16th on Sunday are encouraging signs he’ll be ready for an honorable performance at the northern classics.

“[Mitchelton-Scott] played their cards really well, good job by them,” Pedersen said. “I’m absolutely satisfied with this [performance].”

No wins, but there’s no talk of the rainbow jersey curse either. In February, it’s all too early for that.

Yet after a busy winter, simply racing the bike again, and getting into the routine of training and racing came as a welcomed relief.

In what was a seemingly endless string of public appearances, sponsor obligations and media appointments over the winter, Pedersen was keen to get back to the business of racing his bike.

Perhaps starting in far-away Australia also had other benefits besides the summer weather and wide roads. It allowed him to ease into that’s going to be packed with newfound attention and expectations.

For any world champion, especially one as young as Pedersen, getting accustomed to the duties, demands, obligations and expectations of the rainbow jersey is no easy task.

After powering to a surprise world title in October, Pedersen’s life has been thrown into a whirlwind. As the youngest winner of the world title since Óscar Freire won the first of three crowns at 23 in 1999, Pedersen suddenly found himself at the center of attention.

Pedersen’s world championship victory threw his life into a whirlwind of media and sponsor obligations. Photo: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Trek-Segafredo have closed ranks around their young world champion, and have helped shield him from some of the media hype and frenzy that typically accompanies the world champion.

Trek-Segafredo teammate Kiel Reijnen watched how Pedersen seemed relieved to return to the familiar routine of training and racing. The pair roomed together during the Santos Tour Down Under, and the American said the rainbow jersey hasn’t changed the young Dane.

“He’s the same as ever, which is a good thing,” Reijnen said. “A result like that can change your life, but it doesn’t have to change who you are as a person. He’s handling it well.”

What has changed are the expectations and spotlight that inevitably come with the rainbow jersey.

Some riders, like three-time world champion Peter Sagan, thrive under the glare of the headlights. Others shrink away from the attention. The low-key Pedersen is naturally funny and gregarious, yet he’s privately grumbled he’s not yet used to having every fan, journalist and wanna-be getting in his face all the time.

While Pedersen likely will never be the natural showman that Sagan is, he is determined to give the rainbow jersey its due.

Even though he won’t publicly admit it, Pedersen also wants to prove to any critics and naysayers that his world title wasn’t some sort of fluke. Insiders already knew of Pedersen’s huge motor, revealed to the world when he was second in the 2018 Tour of Flanders behind Niki Terpstra at the ripe age of 22. Many had the hunch that Pedersen would have the engine to win a world title, just no one expected to come as soon as it did.

Pedersen’s second-place at Flanders in 2018 was an early indication of his massive motor. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

Pedersen came to Australia to prepare for the spring classics and put the rainbow jersey on show. It was mission accomplished, even if he didn’t leave with a victory.

“I came for a little more here today, but the shape is good,” he said Sunday. “I am on the right track so that’s OK.”

This week, Trek-Segafredo was quick to announce a two-year contract extension to keep Pedersen in team colors through the 2022 season. He turned pro with the team in 2017, and says the U.S.-registered team is the best place for him to continue developing as a rider.

“I want to keep winning races,” Pedersen said Wednesday. “I want to be more consistent and more on the top level in the classics, not just the big races but in all the races, instead of popping up occasionally. That’s my main goal right now and then, of course, to honor and show respect for the rainbow stripes.”

Coming to Australia was all about rediscovering his racing groove. Now it’s a return to Europe, with a likely Tour de France debut in the cards later this season. First up is Paris-Nice and then straight into the spring classics.

Pedersen vows he’ll be ready. This year, the road to the cobblestones went through Australia.