Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by SWpix.com
Winner of Paris-Nice stage two, Mads Pedersen admitted the weather and road conditions almost made him decide not to sprint in Fontainebleau
As was the case last year after he had blitzed his rivals up the sharp incline into the small Creuse town of Dun-le-Palestel on stage three of Paris-Nice, Mads Pedersen served up a press conference of cutting insight and humour following his victory of the second stage of this edition of “the race to the sun” in the extremely splendid setting of Fontainebleau.
Befitting its sobriquet that suggests clement weather will be found a good way to the south of the French capital in early March, the conditions were grey and rather dank, although the rain did at least hold off. There was, however, no sign of the gusting crosswinds that can transform days across these flat agricultural lands into sporting havoc, setting off echelon alerts all over social media. It was uncommonly still and this, Pedersen explained, made for a quite different but equally complicated and hazardous challenge.
Pre-stage, he’d described the final sprint as “shit” to a Danish reporter, who asked him whether he was still of the same mind a few hours later having won it. “This is the worst kind of sprinting you can do, with 10 kilometres fully straight and then one corner just before the finish,” said the 2019 world champion. “You get the washing machine experience, it’s so hectic, with people everywhere because it’s a quite easy day. Well, I say ‘easy’. It’s still hard, but everyone is a bit fresh and ready to sprint, so we have so many riders who want to sprint which makes it difficult to get it right. A few times I was close to saying, ‘Guys, fuck it, we won’t do it today because I don’t want to crash.”
The wide, straight roads encouraged the peloton to gallop rather than canter. They swept up the lone escapee with 50km left, the only break in ranks coming at the intermediate sprint, where Tadej Pogačar was too quick for Nathan Van Hooydonck and Michael Matthews no less, underlining once again that he can do just about anything that’s asked of him on a road bike as he picked up another six useful seconds on his GC rivals. The road beyond the sprint was so flat and straight you could all but see Fontainebleau’s immensely magnificent chateau with the finish line close by it, the main complication on the way a roundabout 500 metres out.
Was the finale dangerous, Pedersen was asked? “Yeah, but I don’t think that’s down to the roundabout actually, because that came with 500 metres to go and the washing machine had started already with 10 kilometres to go. Sometimes we talk about having clearer, straighter finishes, but sometimes that’s actually more dangerous than having something that stretches out the peloton a bit,” he explained.
“Yesterday was also pretty hectic in the final, of course, but it really stretched out the peloton and the result was that you saw more sprinters going for the win. Today it seemed like a more clear-cut sprint stage, but in the end you didn’t see all the sprinters there because – and sorry for the words – it’s fucking hard to get it right when it’s like this. But the boys did really well keeping us in a good position, taking the wind when we had to and staying covered when we could, and then Alex [Kirsch] did a perfect lead-out… He did a long, long pull, which is normal when we do lead-outs, and then with 200 metres to go give or take I started the sprint and then hoped for the best. I wasn’t sure I’d actually won before they announced it on the radio a few minutes later.”
Asked if the opening two days had been typical of Paris-Nice, Pedersen demurred. “The first two days here haven’t been typical, because normally we would have crosswind on a day like this and we would only be 20 guys at the finish line. It’s a pity that we didn’t have some more crosswind because it makes it even more hectic. If it was crosswind with 80k’s go, you would have had only 20 or maybe 30 guys at the front for the last 10 kilometres and it wouldn’t have been that crazy to be in the group,” the Dane said.
The stage win also netted him the yellow jersey with a two-second advantage on Pogačar. Pedersen stressed that the victory meant more than the jersey because it confirmed his good form heading towards Milan-Sanremo and the Classics beyond. “Of course it’s nice to have the yellow jersey, but I think it means more for our clothing sponsor, Santini. They’re also sponsoring the jerseys here so for them it’s pretty nice. I also know it’s on borrowed time. It’ll be nice to have it tomorrow and then I can hang it in the wardrobe at home afterwards,” he said.
Tomorrow’s [Tuesday] third stage is the new format team time trial. Rather than having to finish with four riders together, the time taken as the fourth man crosses the line, each rider will be allocated their individual finishing team. As a consequence, there may well be an all-for-one approach, as Pedersen highlighted.
“Some teams don’t like this, those that have a good team for team time trials,” he said. “But for a team like us who are not even near the best three teams in this discipline it could be a good new thing to try. We could do ‘suicide pulls’ and then at the end Mattias Skjelmose just has to sprint on his own for the finish line. We’ve never tried it before, so we will see if it works nicely or not. But I think it’s pretty nice from the organisers to try something new.”