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Mads Pedersen: Leaner, meaner, wiser and quietly confident for 2021

Young Dane has come out of pivotal season in the rainbow jersey with a transformed attitude and brighter outlook.

Mads Pedersen looks and sounds like a different man in 2021.

The Dane no longer has the albatross of a rainbow jersey on his back, and his face has a more angular, chiseled look than the rounded cheeks of off-seasons past. Having closed out his 2020 campaign with a confidence-tilting victory at Gent-Wevelgem last fall, the 25-year-old makes for an altogether different rider from seasons past.

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Pedersen was joking, smiling, and engaging in a video call from a Trek-Segafredo camp in Spain on Tuesday.

Rewind 12 months and he was surly and somber, plagued by questions about his surprise 2019 world championships win and whether he had the legs to back it up. Heading into the 2021 season, Pedersen no longer has the distraction of a rainbow jersey in his wardrobe, but that hasn’t toned down his world-beating ambitions.

“The rainbow jersey gave a lot of pressure, but somehow that pressure doesn’t stop when you don’t have the jersey anymore,” Pedersen said. “You showed once that you could win a race like that, and then the pressure keeps going. And then with a win like Gent-Wevelgem, the pressure goes up again. The pressure is pretty much the same as last year, but I’m also putting the same amount of pressure on myself because I still want to win bike races – with or without the rainbow jersey.”

The 2020 season proved to be a pivotal one for Pedersen. Slowly building his form before the coronavirus shut down, and when racing resumed, denied the opportunity to ride the classics in the champion’s jersey, his rainbow season looked at risk of becoming a total washout.

Pedersen didn’t let it happen. He accelerated hard out of the COVID race-stop to put his rainbow jersey at the top of the podium on stage 2 of the Tour of Poland, and a few weeks later, sprinted into second-place on the opening stage in Nice of his debut Tour de France.

After another win at the BinckBank Tour in September, Pedersen punched his ticket to classics glory at Gent-Wevelgem, outfoxing Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert in the final drag into Wevelgem. Although Pedersen was back in his Trek-Segafredo trade team jersey, his victory on the stones last fall proved that his worlds win in Harrogate was no flash in the pan.

Pedersen beat the cream of the classics crop at Gent-Wevelgem last October. Photo: Luc Claessen/Getty Images

“One thing I learned in the corona time at home and also for the races after was that I should race every race like it’s the last one,” Pedersen explained. “You have to race let’s say a stage in [Etoile de] Bessèges like it’s the Tour of Flanders, racing like you actually won and you think you’re the best in that race. That’s how we race Flanders, but I want to take that approach with me and all the other races also.”

Pedersen seemed at ease as he chatted openly to a half-dozen English-speaking media Tuesday.

Having endured a tide of interest, speculation, and doubt in his rainbow jersey season last year, the burly Dane said he has learned the art and craft of media relations. The relaxed and confident on-bike approach that scored him a win in Wevelgem had translated to his press-room mentality.

“I got a lot more attention from everywhere last year, and it was something I had to deal with and learn quite fast,” he said. “I had to learn it fast and in the beginning, I was sometimes a little bit pissed with it and I didn’t enjoy it. But it’s a part of cycling and now actually I’m totally fine with it.”

Pedersen will be carrying his newfound confidence through a block of early-season races starting at the Etoile de Bessèges in early February before kick-starting the classics season at the “opening weekend.” From there, he and classics co-leader Jasper Stuyven will take on Milano-Sanremo and the marquee northern classics.

Though his new mentality will see him going all-in every time he toes a startline, the Tour of Flanders is the top of Pedersen’s hit list for the season, along with a challenge at the Flanders worlds. The new-look, relaxed Pedersen was even able to joke about how he regularly taunts Stuyven with quips about his plan to beat his teammate in a two-up sprint in the rainbow jersey race this September.

Pedersen seems transformed in 2021. A whirlwind season in the rainbow jersey and debut Tour de France proved a turning point in his young career. It’s fitting then, that Pedersen’s trademark off-season baby fat has been left on the kitchen counter this year.

“I did the Tour and it’s actually helped a lot with learning how you manage your weight,” he said. “I’m just more professional now and learned not to eat too much in December or you will pay the bill later. So it’s okay only to eat Christmas food three times in December and not for 31 days.”

Leaner, meaner, wiser. Meet the re-made Mads Pedersen.