Yorkshire 2019 will be remembered for the hospitable welcome of the hosts and the inhospitable weather that dominated the week, but for a young man from Denmark it will for ever be recalled as the launchpad of his career.
Of the myriad contenders to win the men’s race – Greg van Avermaet, Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphillipe to mention a few – the name of Mads Pedersen will barely have crossed anyone’s mind.
Even when the 23-year-old was among the last three men on the final half-lap of Harrogate, with the rain unrelenting and the cold biting, it looked for all the world that Matteo Trentin of Italy, a seasoned finisher of one-day races, would get his arms into the coveted rainbow jersey.
But Pedersen – who had bridged across to join a break 60km from home on the fifth of an extended nine circuits of Harrogate – had other ideas.
As Trentin mistimed his attack, Pedersen hung back and attacked from deep, thrusting his arm into the air as he crossed the line on Parliament Street and falling under a mass of team-mates and photographers as he climbed from his bike.
“I had no energy left,” said the new world champion, speaking for an entire peloton that had been battered by wind and rain for six and a half hours on the road from Leeds to Harrogate.
I’m finished with playing underdog. That’s pretty impossible now.Mads Pedersen
“So many people around me I couldn’t stand up and had four guys lying on top of me on the ground. But it was worth it.”
Pedersen’s victory comes at the end of a year in which young riders have proven age is no barrier to success in the biggest races. Egan Bernal is the 22-year-old Tour de France champion. Belgian wonderkid Remco Evenepoel was second in the world championship time-trial earlier this week and in the women’s race against the clock on Tuesday, 22-year-old Chloe Dygert Owen obliterated an experienced field.
“The junior teams and federations start earlier than they used to,” said Pedersen, already looking at home in the status of world champion.
“I was already with my national team when I was 17 and we were starting to get more professional, and that’s paying off at the age when people are turning professional.”
Pedersen’s life is about to change beyond recognition; in terms of endorsements, his status back home in Denmark which is celebrating a first male road race world champion, and in how he will be viewed in the peloton.
“I’m finished with playing underdog,” said Pedersen, for whom a second place at the 2018 Tour of Flanders was a previous best result.
“That’s pretty impossible now. I have to race in another way from now on.”
Had the race gone to script, Trentin or maybe Mathieu van der Poel would have been wearing the rainbow jersey. But the elite men’s road race of Yorkshire 2019 was anything but a typical examination.
Shortened before the start due to heavy rain that had made Buttertubs and Grinton Moor unpassable by bike, the race took on an attritional feel almost the moment it wheeled out from Leeds at the delayed start of 9am.
An initial break of 11 containing grand tour winners Nairo Quintana, Ricardo Carapaz and Primoz Roglic built a lead of four minutes and 30 seconds at one stage, having had to negotiate flooding at the foot of Cray behind a safety motorbike.
They were reeled in before the race reached Harrogate, by which time any one of around 90 riders could have won it.
Indeed, there were 89 cyclists timed at 0.00 when the race ticked towards 84km left, three laps into the extended nine circuits of the spa town.
Big names were dropping out all the time. Alejandro Valverde, the defending champion, went at 68km to go, British favourite Geraint Thomas abandoned a further 10km along the route.
Stefan Kung of Switzerland and Lawson Craddock of the United States attempted a long-distance assault before Pedersen bridged to them and Craddock was dropped and eventually pulled out.
Van der Poel, the pre-race favourite, was the next to attack, taking Trentin with him.
It was the young Dutchman who looked the strongest and with a lap to go, he, Kung, Pedersen, and the Italian duo of Trentin and Gianni Moscon had a 48-second lead over the chasing bunch that was widening all the time.
When van der Poel was struck down with cramp on the first corner of the final lap, his fellow escapees sensed weakness and left him for dead.
Moscon was the next to crack and even though Sagan launched an attack in the final three kilometres, the medals would be decided by the last three standing.
Trentin, a Tour de France stage winner earlier this year, would have been most people’s tip but Pedersen made his move.
“When it’s only three guys you have everything to win and nothing to lose,” said Pedersen, “so I took a chance and waited for the sprint and luckily it was enough to get the jersey.”
“But it was a brutal race, a pretty rough day, six and a half hours on the bike, 10-12 degrees and a lot of water.
“It was a really tough day but that’s the way I like to race in the rain and tough conditions like this.”
Trentin, who edged Kung into third place by two seconds, was magnanimous in defeat. “When you’re there and can aim for the jersey you aim for the jersey, but at the end of the day one guy beat me,” said the 30-year-old.
“One guy has the jersey, two guys have a medal, everyone else has nothing.”
The rest of us have memories of a great week, including UCI president David Lappartient who last night spoke fondly of the event’s nine days in Yorkshire.
“For me yes it was a success, of course,” said the Frenchman.
“The weather was quite difficult this week, but it is sometimes with difficult weather that we write the history of cycling.
“We had some wonderful races.
“Today’s was completely under the rain, but it was a great race.”
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