Pressure, expectation and risk: Mads Pedersen is Lidl-Trek’s Tour de France trump card

With no general classification ambitions and a team built around him, all eyes are on the Danish rider to win stages

As the temperatures creep up in Florence, the pressure is rising ahead of the Tour de France Grand Départ. The Tuscan sun blazes down on the Lidl-Trek branded gazebo that Mads Pedersen sits in, plonked in the car park of the supermarket chain’s flagship store in the area. People crowd to get a look at the Danish rider, reporters clamouring to get their microphones close to him as his voice cuts through the hot and stuffy air.

“The team wants me to perform. That's what I'm paid to do as well, so of course I have to perform when I'm here,” Pedersen says in his usual cool and stoic tone. “But I'm also used to that. It's not the first year I'm here with the ambitions of winning a stage, so it's nothing special. It's nothing new. It's just exciting."

With Lidl-Trek’s general classification hopeful, Tao Geoghegan Hart, out of the race with Covid-19, Pedersen is the team’s ‘plan A’ when it comes to securing results in this year’s Tour de France. Jasper Stuyven was called in as the British rider’s replacement last week, with the direct aim of strengthening the team around Pedersen as he goes for stage wins. It’s all in for the Dane.

“It’s a pity that Tao isn’t here for the general classification. Tao is a friend of mine. We have been racing together since we were like 14 years old. I was in contact with him every day, but I can't change anything,” Pedersen says.

The talk of the peloton is that Pedersen could see success as early as on the opening day of the Tour de France. While the hilly stage to Rimini includes 3821 vertical climbing metres, which can often be too many for a rider of Pedersen’s skilset, the 28-year-old has impressed so far this year with his climbing and is known to relish a tough stage.

Image: ASO/Jonathan Biche

“He's one of the world's best one-day racers, I think he can go deep,” Geraint Thomas of Ineos Grenadiers explained regarding Pedersen’s chances of taking yellow. “I think it's on the limit for him but that team hasn't got anyone for GC so they could ride for him.”

Soudal-Quick-Step’s Remco Evenepoel agreed with this sentiment: “I saw Mads Pedersen climbing in the Dauphiné, he was going very well. I think if he has the legs, and if he can handle the pressure that a team like UAE can put on him, then he's, in my opinion, the top favourite for stage one. If UAE goes bananas from the first climb, then it will be a very small group going to the finish line but if the race develops like how I think it should develop, then probably Pedersen can be favourite number one.”

Two of the top general classification riders in the peloton touting Pedersen for success on Saturday, alongside the pressure of being his team’s trump card over the next three weeks, is a lot for one rider to handle. Despite the expectations of his sponsors and the attention that comes with the Tour de France, however, nothing seems to be shaking Pedersen’s ability to remain focused.

“I would say like this: we take the chance. Now with no GC guy, it makes no sense not to try. I know it will be on the limit, if not over the limit, so everything really has to play in our favour. But it also would be stupid just to sit up at the bottom and say, okay, I can't make it, so I will definitely try. But it's far from trying, to winning. As a team, we'll give it a go,” the Pedersen explains.

There’s also the small matter of the green jersey competition in this year’s Tour on his mind. With his improved climbing abilities this season, getting over tricky stages to have a shot at intermediate sprint points is realistic for Pedersen. There’s hot competition from the likes of Jasper Philipsen and Wout van Aert, but the two-time Tour stage winner has come close to winning the classification in the past when his climbing form wasn’t as impressive as it is now.

“It's a good option. I'm climbing really well. I know Jasper (Philipsen) is a faster sprinter than me, but I’ll try to grab as many points as possible and stay in the game of the green jersey,” Pedersen says. “But of course the green jersey comes with trying to win as many stages as possible. That's definitely our main goal to win as much as possible. We will see how it plays out, it's three weeks of racing and a lot can happen.”

Pedersen’s confidence largely comes from the fact that he believes he’s done all he can to be in with the best shot of success in this year’s Tour. Whether he can win Saturday’s stage and have a successful race around France largely depends on the ambitions of GC teams such as UAE Team Emirates, who could attack and put the lesser climbers in trouble this weekend. 

“It's a gamble but we have to try it,” Pedersen asserts, sipping on a bottle of Lidl own-brand water. “I won't sit here and say I can win that stage because I know how tough it is. If I do a result really depends on how other teams want to race the last climb. It’s in their hands if we will make it or not. We will see.”

Cover image: ASO/Pauline Ballet

Rachel Jary

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