Mads Pedersen’s “rainbow jersey curse” hasn’t taken the results-robbing manifestation that has struck world champions past. Instead, just having the thing hanging in his wardrobe has turned into a bit of an albatross around the young Dane’s neck.
Pedersen was thrust into the treasured tunic off his searing finishing sprint on the frigid, rain-soaked streets of Yorkshire last year, deemed as one of the biggest surprises in recent world’s history.
Admitting that win was a surprise even to himself, there’s a sense that the 24-year-old would rather do without the attention, expectation, and questioning attitudes that inevitably come with it.
“To be honest, I really don’t care what people think about me and me wearing the rainbow jersey,” Pedersen told VeloNews. “I really don’t care what people think and what they expect. You know, that’s not my problem. It’s their problem.”
With victory at junior Paris-Roubaix and a second-place in the 2018 Tour of Flanders, Pedersen was slowly but surely making a name for himself as a future cobblestone talent long before his Yorkshire triumph. But suddenly, he’s been the focus of the media glare with his status as world champion. For Pedersen, that rainbow jersey is secondary to his own long-term ambitions.
“I’m not working hard every day and training hard to show other people how good I am,” Pedersen said Thursday. “I’m doing it to achieve my own goals and my own results so when I stop cycling, I can look back on my career 100 percent happy. I don’t have to prove myself to other people than myself and my team.”
Pedersen’s snatching of worlds’ glory was perhaps one of the best-timed raids in the modern era. Going into the final dragging uphill of the Yorkshire circuit, Mathieu van der Poel had flamed out, and all eyes were on Italian fastman Matteo Trentin. Pedersen admits he also thought the Italian would take the gold medal, but after Trentin launched his sprint early, Pedersen came off his wheel just as the Italian faded. And the rest is history.
“I had to risk it all to win, so I had the mind that there was all or nothing in the last 500 meters and then in the end it was everything,” Pedersen said. “It was perfect to gamble it like that.”
But after that successful roll of the dice last September, the tables have turned on Pedersen in unexpected ways.
After the Dane had accumulated only 16 race days in his rainbow-liveried Trek-Segafredo jersey in 2020, the coronavirus put the brakes on the season. With the spring classics scrapped, the Dane was denied the opportunity to race his prized Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix as reigning world champion.
Could that be a new manifestation of the “rainbow jersey curse” that has robbed world champions of race-winning form in the past?
“I don’t know if it’s a curse on the jersey,” Pedersen said. “You know, it’s everyone who can’t race right now. If I had a knee injury or something, we could talk about the curse? But when it’s like this, it’s a curse over the whole world, right? We can talk about the curse when the season is over when we see how it went.”
Pedersen knows that he may only have two months to wear the rainbow stripes if and when the season resumes. The world championships have retained their traditional late-September window in the rescheduled 2020 calendar, falling directly after the Tour de France and immediately before October’s block of northern classics.
With Pedersen hoping to make his Tour debut before moving on to a worlds’ defense, along with his primary goals at Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, at least he’s guaranteed to don the jersey for a three-week trip through France. That journey will pack in more media attention and critical eyes than Pedersen would like, but he’s not going to let that bother him as he rides in support of team leaders Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema.
“People will have some more expectations on me at the Tour, but yeah, that’s their problem – not mine,” he said. “I’m there to ride for my team, that’s it.”
With this year’s worlds in Switzerland coming just one week after the Tour rumbles to a close in Paris, Pedersen’s time with the rainbow jersey will all but end on the Champs Élysées.
With a tough hilly course on tap at Aigle-Martigny, Pedersen had been keeping his fingers crossed that the coronavirus scare might see the race rescheduled to a sprinter-friendly fling through the deserts of the Middle East after October’s classics block. The recent confirmation that the event will be staying at its originally-planned European venue struck a double blow for Pedersen: almost no chance of success, and with that, fewer days in the rainbow stripes.
“I hoped they would move it close to the last race in the season so I could at least race the classics in the jersey but yeah, that’s how it is,” Pedersen said. “But now I’m gonna race in Switzerland and I’ll be ready to do my absolute best, but there’s almost no chance to get it the back on my shoulders. I know that. But I will be there and be in shape and be ready to defend my jersey.
“Even if I don’t win, I will show that the guy who wants to hold on to the jersey the most, that’s me. The guy who wants to be proud and show the proudness and honesty to the jersey. That’s also me.”
And then just three weeks later comes the cobbles of Flanders and Roubaix.
“My biggest goal is to win both of Flanders and Roubaix one day,” Pedersen said. “I may not have the jersey for those races, but knowing that gives me more motivation to show that I could have done a good result whether I am champion or not. I’m always motivated to do my best whatever.”
Pedersen is likely to accumulate the smallest number of race days as world champion in recent times, but while he has the rainbow jersey, he’ll honor it. And even if he doesn’t have it much longer, it seems he may be glad to be rid of it. Then the world can divert its attention back to his potential for the future, not the status achieved via one rain-sodden sprint in the past.