There is a new name on top of the cycling world. Mads Pedersen, the 23-year-old Danish rider who had done little of note on the global stage bar his second place at last year’s Tour of Flanders, sparked the decisive attack towards the end of a long and brutal six-hour ride in relentless Yorkshire rain, and shook off the attentions of much-fancied rivals Mathieu van der Poel and Matteo Trentin to clinch his first world title.
The Dutchman Van der Poel was the pre-race favourite this morning but surprisingly he was the first of a leading quintet to crack, and looked utterly broken as he was swept up by the chasing peloton. It meant Trentin was the most high-profile rider left on the front, but the Italian seemed to have nothing in his legs as he tried to sprint for the line. Pedersen latched on to his wheel before thundering past to win by several lengths, and was mobbed on the line by the Danish team.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said afterwards. “We didn’t expect this when we started this morning. The plan was to get me out and get [Michael Valgren] Andersen and [Jakob] Fuglsang to come from behind. But they didn’t follow, so from there on it was survive, survive, survive, and then I went for it. I just hoped that when I saw the finish line all the pain would be gone and I could do a good sprint. Six and a half hours on the bike, so everyone was on the limit, so anything can happen in the sprint.”
Pedersen added: “It’s every rider’s dream to wear the rainbow jersey.”
The wild conditions took plenty of prisoners along the way and those that made it to the finish looked bedraggled and wet to the bone. But after the disqualification drama of Friday’s men’s U23 race and the stunning solo ride of the women’s elite edition, this had been something more formulaic. An 11-man breakaway quickly formed, packed with Grand Tour-winning quality like Primoz Roglic and Nairo Quintana, and they stayed away for much of the day.
The route had earlier been truncated to avoid the worst of the weather, as officials swapped a couple of steep early hills for a couple more laps of the finishing circuit in Harrogate, and it was on arrival in the town that the breakaway was finally swallowed up.
There the Belgian leader Philippe Gilbert was immediately caught in a crash that ended his bid, and several other riders abandoned, including Britain’s Geraint Thomas and Ireland’s Dan Martin, as the peloton whittled down to a few committed to taking on the twisting Harrogate roads in treacherous conditions.
Then came the winning attack. Pedersen and the Swiss Stefan Kung led the way, before Italy’s Gianni Moscon, Van der Poel and Trentin bridged across. As they approached the final 10km, Van der Poel suddenly cracked and slid away, completely drained and swaying across the road like a drunk. Moscon dropped off soon after, leaving Trentin, Pedersen and Kung to fight for a medal, and in the final metres it was the young Dane who proved the strongest.