174.29 million people live across France, Spain and Italy, the countries that host cycling's Grand Tours, three of the traditional heartlands. These three countries have won no stages at this year's Tour de France, in the 13 so far. Just 5.83 million live in Denmark, but the nation has won three stages at this year's Tour, and currently holds the yellow jersey through Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).
In fact, Mads Pedersen's sprint to victory on stage 13 was the third Danish victory in four days, after Magnus Cort won in Mégeve on stage 10, and then Vingegaard won on the Col du Granon, taking the race lead with it. Let's not forget Cort's days in the polka dot jersey either; this could be the Tour de Denmark.
The trio might not have won in their home country, which hosted this year's Grand Départ, but they clearly took energy from it and have performed incredibly well at this year's race. This really is the new golden age of Denmark.
"It’s absolutely incredible of all the Danish," Vingegaard said post-stage. "Three stage wins, so of course it’s super super nice. I’m happy for Mads that he won today, and it’s always big to win a stage. I won the other day my first one, which was super big for me. This is nice for him."
It is obvious just how popular cycling is in Denmark, just step out into any road and get shouted to move by a cyclist in a well-built bike lane. The Tour presentation in Copenhagen a fortnight ago, and the reception the peloton received in the country across three stages, should have been proof enough at the sport's popularity. But still, their riders are outperforming traditional countries, showing them how it is done.
"We felt a lot of support already in Denmark, and also here in France," Pedersen said in his press conference. "It’s really crazy to see all the Danish people. The Tour puts four or five stages that suit the Danish people so good, which I think is more luck than anything else. It also shows me have a good mix of cyclists in Denmark. It’s crazy that we have three wins in such a short space of time."
Asked where this success is coming from, particularly for a small country which until very recently failed to make much of an impact on the world stage, the 26-year-old spoke of the support that riders get in the country.
"All the hard work from local clubs, junior teams, people who are doing this for free to help talent," he explained. "The national team, continental teams, all this work is paying off now. For so many years It was working well in Denmark, with all this support, and now we have a generation that’s achieving things, and showing off on the biggest stage. Huge thanks to everyone supporting us. Let’s just hope people will keep supporting talent."
Denmark might be seventh on the UCI's country ranking, something Pedersen told journalists to go and look at - he said it was "out of his pay grade" to judge nations = but it feels like it is punching well above this at the moment.
There's no reason to think that Vingegaard could not win the Tour, with it Denmark's first since 1996, or that any of the nine Danes left in the race could win another stage; although it would be likely to be one of the three who have already won, rather than another.
Pedersen attacks to victory, rather than waiting for sprint
Pedersen has come close at the Tour before, finishing second twice on stages in 2020, and third once at this year's edition, but finally broke through on Friday, to complete a dream week for his Scandinavian country.
"It’s really big. It’s a relief," he explained in his post-stage press conference. "I was working hard this season to be the best possible, especially with the start in Denmark. I didn’t have the win in Denmark like I dreamed about, but now the win is here. I’m so happy for me but also the whole team."
It feels like a lifetime ago that he was world champion, it coming at a rainy Yorkshire edition in 2019, months before the pandemic kicked off. Since then, he has matured as a rider, and kept picking up wins; this was his sixth this season.
However, it was not won in the manner that was expected. Rather than waiting for the sprint with the break, in which he surely he would have been the fastest, the Dane attacked with 9km to go, bringing only two riders with him. He then won the sprint from this group.
"I knew I would be the fastest one in the sprint, but to control five other guys it’s never easy," Pedersen explained when asked about this decision. "I wanted to get away with as few as possible. It split up half half, and it was easier to control two guys rather than five guys."
There was only one team to have two men in the break of six: Trek-Segafredo. They used their numbers wisely, with Quinn Simmons burying himself for his teammate, falling away on the final classified climb of three on Friday.
"Quinn definitely played a big part of today," Pedersen said. "I was in a big break in the beginning, but with 20 guys it’s difficult with everyone to turn. The moment they caught us, Quinn went straightaway again. He was pulling longer and harder than I did, especially on the climbs, he took a lot of time on the peloton. He was a big part of today, big thanks to him."
The rest of the race could bring more success for him now he has got over the line first once; there are multiple upcoming stages that suit a punchier rider like him over the pure sprinters, and it is possible he could win a bunch sprint anyway.
"I learned from home to have a lot of confidence, and I also think I started this morning with a lot," Pedersen concluded. "Definitely it gives a boost for the next days, and we will see how we are going to do the next two days."
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